For Feb. 17, 2013: 1 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The Book of Deuteronomy, though it tells of the time of Moses, was actually written centuries later, perhaps during the time of the exile or captivity in Babylon. This story about Israel’s past redemption from a time of suffering—the “wandering Aramean” is the patriarch Jacob—is surely meant as a story of present hope as well.

The Response            Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

The Epistle            Romans 10:8b-13

The letters to the Corinthians that we have heard over the last month set out how God’s justified people should live and behave. Now, writing to the Jewish and Greek Christians in Rome, Paul explains just what is required to be justified and to be saved: believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord—no matter who you are.

The Gospel            Luke 4:1-13

 

Further thoughts

As Lent begins, many people undertake fasts or other forms of denial. The rest of us may not manage to launch such a discipline or may falter in carrying it out; we may wonder whether we’ve given up the right thing, or we may sadly conclude, as everyone else apparently gets it right, that we are uniquely failures and some of us—all right, I admit it, I’m talking about myself—may interpret Lenten discipline as an order to deal with All-That-Is-Wrong-With-Me-And-Lord-Knows-There’s-Plenty by my very own self before I’m fit to show my face among Christians.

Woven into today’s readings for the first Sunday in Lent, in addition to the obvious lessons about trusting God and resisting the devil, are some subtler and perhaps less expected ones that confront these points.

In the season of giving up chocolate, the reading from Deuteronomy startles by bidding us to feast in gratitude for God’s blessings, and we are to make sure we share with everyone—foreigners, slaves, employees, panhandlers, even bosses—so they also may rejoice and give thanks.

As to not measuring up, Paul’s message for the Romans, and us, is that none of us measures up, whatever it looks like; what’s more, expecting to measure up misses the point, for the salvation that today’s psalm promises is exactly what God will deliver to us, if we believe to the extent of acting on it.

The passage from Luke similarly contains a surprise. Jesus is facing a powerful and determined adversary, so one expects him to show power in return: a little flexing of divine muscle, or at least an assertion in his own voice of his godly superiority. Yet the very Son of God doesn’t do so. Even Jesus’ final response, while it comes close to sounding exasperated, is nevertheless phrased, like the preceding ones, as a quotation from scriptures that he would have studied as a kid in the synagogue with everyone else. He relies not on his godhood but on God’s Word and the community of faith and love that has shaped him on earth: precisely the tools that, through God’s bounty, are available to us.

The most rigorous Lenten discipline may be learning to trust more than try.

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