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Lent 1 (C)
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Readings for the First Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

 

1. Deuteronomy 26, 4-10

  • We begin a new series of the ‘great readings’ we always hear at Lent.  In contrast with the Great Books seminars, our goal will not be to appreciate the roots of our culture but to encounter the defining events of our faith.
  • My father was a wandering Aramean  Even though this ritual is placed toward the end of the Torah, it reads as one of the earliest liturgical ceremonies of Israel.  It has none of the embellishments found in Exodus, and shows the heart of the message, that God acts decisively with strong hand and outstretched arm. 
  • Wandering: First I hear a random movement devoid of ultimate purpose.  Oppressed: Then I hear consciousness-taking.  Israel was not called to pass its days as just another subject class in Egypt, but to exercise its dignity in freedom.  Does one fabricate this on one’s own, or is it a case of inspiration? 
  • He brought us out  This is what God intends.  And God does not do this surreptitiously but very publicly, with great signs and wonders.
  • I am taken especially by the Bible’s theology of property.  He gave us this land.  In other words, the world around us is a gift from God. 
  • I have brought you the firstfruits.  And if that is so, then worldly goods ultimately do not belong to us.  It is not a question of “my money” as certain liberal economists and politicians love to repeat to adoring audiences.  So when I make a donation in money or in kind, I return something God first gave me.  What can I do to make this clear to my listeners?  What can I do that will help them change their perspective and their lives?  After all, we have begun Lent.
  • Central theme: God is constantly at work for the people.  The reading is full of action words applied to God, such as heard, saw, brought us out, bringing us in, gave us.
  • Message for our assembly: So is the right to private property something we gain by our own hard labor?  Or is it a responsibility, given freely by God?
  • I will challenge myself: To utter with the due solemnity this very ancient formula.

 

2. Romans 10, 8-13

  • You will be saved.  The apostle sounds today like a revival evangelist.  I need to work harder to avoid such a superficial comparison.
  • He is discussing the relationship of our new life in Christ to the covenant between God and Israel.  We have just heard a very old expression of that covenant.  Now we hear that the promise has been extended to everyone who believes.  No distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord (Jesus) is Lord of all.
  • For the apostle, to profess Judaism was very much a question of belonging to a people with a special inheritance.  Here he presents, in contrast, our belief in the risen Lord, which implies for us a personal stand.  We may have inherited our faith from our parents, but we must ratify or confirm it in our own lives.  It is not a question of the ‘faith of our fathers and mothers’ but of our own faith: If you believe.  In that sense the apostle lies very much within the prophetic tradition of a renewed covenant.
  • It also sounds to me like a typical presentation of God’s grace working among us.  God acts (raised him from the dead) and we welcome the action in our lives.  I remember the readings in recent Sundays on our resurrection with Christ.
  • If you confess  Such a profession by me and by the entire assembly is for the good of the church, or else the words make no sense.  And believe in your heart  Now comes the inner conviction in which my profession is rooted.  So let me read ‘confess’ outwardly to everyone, and then speak ‘believe’ inwardly to those mysterious depths where we each meet God.
  • Finally, the passage opens with the final words of a comparison the apostle was making between the teaching given to Israel and the word of faith that we preach.  In each case the life we seek is not locked in some distant archive but penetrating deep within us, near you, in your mouth and in your heart.
  • The message for our assembly: Do we accept the gift of faith that was handed down to us?  Do we share it with others?
  • Climax: No one who believes in him will be put to shame.  Everyone is welcome to enter the circle, and no one is excluded.
  • I will challenge myself: To reach out to everyone with my gaze and the way I project my voice.

 

Gospel. Luke 4, 1-13

  • We are progressing through the cycle of Luke, and now I hear the temptation story through the eyes of Luke.  What in particular do I hear?
  • When the days were over he was hungry.  Luke tends to state the obvious, but our congregation which has never missed a mealtime or a snack time in its life needs a reminder that being hungry is not a sin!
  • Showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single moment.  Today I can flip through the newspaper or a news website and get the same effect.  I think the hinge of the sentence is ‘kingdoms’ because it centers our attention on surface-level power and glory and not on the deeper hopes and fears of those who are subjects of those kingdoms.  The devil or, as Ignacio de Loyola called him, the “enemy of our human nature,” prompts us to stick to surface impressions.
  • It is written: He will command his angels.  I read and reflect upon the Bible daily.  Let me remind myself and the assembly that we must not throw scripture texts at each other but humbly seek in common prayer the deeper message.
  • When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him – for a time.  My listeners have probably not thought about the word ‘every,’ which suggests that Jesus was tested a lot more than three times.  I will give special emphasis to the last three words of the passage. ‘For a time’ recalls the imagination of Sister Emmerich who had such an influence on Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus at prayer in the garden. 
  • Climax: You shall worship the Lord, your God.  Lent is above all a time for turning back to the Lord.  Jesus will show us the way, because he never turned away but locked his sights on God. 
  • Message for our assembly: Are we tempted in these ways?  Is our nation as a political body tempted in these ways? 
  • I will challenge myself: To read so that the tests have relevance for everyone.

 

From Word to Eucharist: We fail continually.  Do we have the courage to pick ourselves up, like the people that was oppressed in Egypt?  Do we help others to pick themselves up?  Have we learned not just to adore Jesus as divine but to admire him as a man beyond other human beings?  What difference does our admiration make in building the church?

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