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Sunday’s readings >

Readings: 1st Sunday of Lent

Rosalind Brown

by Rosalind Brown

Posted: 08 Feb 2013 @ 12:12

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 background.

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 save.

So, this Lent, where have you come from? Where are you going?

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