Studying God’s Word

Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13 [24C]
The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Today we hear Luke’s account of the temptation of Christ because we are in Year C. It is fitting at the start of the Lenten journey to reflect upon temptation—those areas in our lives that push us away from God and diminish our relationships with each other.
One of the basic tenets of our Christian faith is that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. This Christological doctrine finds its scriptural grounding in Hebrews 4:15 (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way yet without sin”). Immediately following his baptism in the Jordan, the synoptic Gospel tradition speaks of Jesus’ temptations by the devil at the end of his forty days in the desert. When Jesus was most vulnerable—in a state of significant hunger after forty days of eating “nothing”—the devil first tempted him with food: “command this stone to become bread.” Resisting this temptation, Jesus is then offered “power and glory … if you worship me.” Withstanding the allure to serve someone other than God, Jesus is next offered the chance to prove God’s providence to save and protect his Son (“He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you”). With each temptation, Jesus was able to defeat the devil and his temptations by relying on Scripture (Dt 8:3; 6:13, 16). The devil enticed Jesus with all things human: the need for food and sustenance, the attraction to power and praise, and the inclination to question and test God. For this reason, we Christians practice the spiritual exercises of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer during the season of Lent. The exercise of these virtues keeps us close to God and keeps us focused on service to others.  
Luke closes his temptation narrative with an intriguing commentary: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” Within Luke’s Gospel, this is likely a foreshadowing to Luke 22:3-4. In Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem, Luke tells us: “Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss a plan for handing him [Jesus] over to them.” The devil could not succeed with tempting Jesus, but according to Luke, he did return and attempt to defeat Jesus through one of his own.
The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. It is part of a longer speech in which Moses instructs the Israelites on how to celebrate a harvest festival in thanksgiving to God for their entry into the Promised Land. Today’s reading offers a succinct summary of the Old Testament storyline from Abraham to Moses, about eight hundred years of biblical history. Moses taught the Israelites to be ever grateful to God for the firstfruits of the harvest from the land upon which they were about to occupy. The harvest thanksgiving was an important reminder to Israel for their dependency on God. The lesson became part of Israel’s cultic and ethnic identity. And Jesus relied heavily on the teachings from Deuteronomy to resist the devil’s temptation.  As the journey of Lent begins, the readings for today remind us to rely on both Scripture and tradition to find meaning in the journey.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz