Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in
the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us
grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as
you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
WHEN preparing people for confirmation, I suggest that they keep
a journal to record this important journey, and to begin by
reflecting on the two questions that the angel asked Hagar in the
wilderness: "Where have you come from, and where are you going?"
(Genesis 16.8). These questions confront us with the truth about
ourselves: I recommend them as we begin our observance of Lent.
Where have you come from? The people in Deuteronomy had
experienced God's deliverance from slavery, and the gift of a new
land; now they were to bring their offerings as an expression of
their relationship with their saving God. Their history went back
before slavery, to a nomadic existence: they were people of
promise, who had grown from a single family; aliens who became a
nation; people whose cry to God in their hardship was answered.
Where have you come from? Paul wrote to Christians who had been
separated by racial origins, Jew and Greek. They were people who
had learned that their backgrounds were not defining when it came
to their relationship with God, and thus with each other. "There is
no distinction; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all
who call on him."
Where have you come from? "If you are the Son of God . . ." The
devil's approach to Jesus was cunning, an attempt to get him to do
the work of undermining his own vocation by doubting where he came
from. Sometimes, it takes only a challenge to our sense of
identity, and our whole world crumbles. People who inflict mental
abuse on others know too well the power of words to harm, and the
power of implanted doubt.
Where have you come from? Luke has been careful to tell us. At
Jesus's baptism, the voice from heaven declared: "You are my Son,
the beloved." Luke followed this immediately with a list of Jesus's
ancestry, going back not just to Abraham, as in Matthew's
genealogy, but beyond that to Adam, the son of God.
Then Luke describes Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit who descended
on him at his baptism, being led by that Spirit into the
wilderness, where the first thing the devil did was to try to call
that sonship into doubt. If the devil could undermine Jesus's
awareness of where he had come from, then the rest was easy. So
Jesus's robust answers went behind the particular temptations to
the underlying question of vocation.
Where are you going? The people whom Moses addressed were
learning to live with the fruits of God's generosity - delivered by
signs and wonders, fed with abundant milk and honey. They were no
longer to be wanderers, honey being the product of a settled
existence, but people with land and identity, who celebrated with
all the bounty that God had given, living as people who knew
themselves to be the recipients of sheer gift from God.
Where are you going? In multicultural Corinth, they were going
to experience God's salvation in Jesus Christ, and to know God's
generosity to all people, regardless of racial or religious
Where are you going? To live as the Son of God in a broken
world, and, ultimately, to save that world. At the end of the
temptations, Luke omits Matthew's and Mark's reference to angels'
waiting on Jesus, and instead reports that when the devil had
finished every test (there were far more than the three we know
about), he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.
When was that opportune time for the devil? It was in
Gethsemane, when Jesus told the disciples to pray not to come into
the time of trial. Where was Jesus going? To suffering and death,
to resurrection and ascension, and, through that, to bring
salvation to the world.
God knows our weakness, and is powerful to save us. Our readings
encourage us to know ourselves as recipients of God's extraordinary
generosity, which made a people of promise out of slaves; one
people out of divided Jews and Greeks; people who follow the one
who knows our weakness, and longs that we should know his power to
So, this Lent, where have you come from? Where are you