First Sunday In Lent

First Sunday in Lent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

March 10, 2019



The first reading sets the stage. Abraham, our ancestor in faith, nomadic wanderer, keeper of goats and sheep, lived in a tent. And yet he heard the call of an invisible, nameless, wilderness God, who promised to make Sarah and Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. God is able to take what is small and insignificant and turn it into something great. Generations later after a period of great prosperity their descendants were reduced to genocidal slavery in Egypt. God heard their cry for liberation and under the leadership of Moses set them free. For 40 years they wandered in the wilderness, where they were tried and tested before entering the promised land. In short, the generation that left Egypt, doesn’t  pass the test. Psalm 95 says, “Forty years I endured that generation. They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways….They shall not enter into my rest.”
This is where the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness connects with the first reading. Israel is in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus does what Israel would not do. Jesus, the New Moses, passes the test, endures the trial, and in his own human nature makes a way for us, for a new restored humanity.
The Incarnation is the key to understanding the drama of Christ’s Temptations in the wilderness. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” The temptations of Jesus teach us that God has embraced our human condition right down to the bottom. God knows us from the inside, in Jesus God has become one of us. God knows the depth of our temptations from the inside.
There are as many ways of being tested, tried, tempted, as there are human beings and experiences. All can be summarized and reduced to the three primal types illustrated by the Temptations of Jesus in the desert.
1)   Hunger. ‘Turn these stones to bread’. The universal need. Whether it be hunger for bread, for food, or the hungry heart. All of us are hungry for something or someone. We can be easily led astray by our appetites. In her moral teaching the Church speaks of disordered appetites, desire not ordered toward its proper end or purpose. The traditional Lenten practice of fasting and abstinence is meant to bring discipline and order to our desires, so we can learn to hunger for the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons.
“Jesus answered him, It is written, One does not live on bread alone.” Matthew’s gospel adds, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Lent is for us to learn to hunger for the Bread of God’s Word rather than the scattered stones of our own desire.
2)    Idolatry. The fundamental sin of the Bible is idolatry. To give ones allegiance, loyalty, devotion, worship, to something other than God. “All this will be yours.” Says the evil one. “If you worship me”.  Especially in our consumer society, we often seek to fill the void in our lives with things, consumer goods, ‘retail therapy’. Sometimes this is a way of seeking distraction, or, it makes us feel safe, or insulated from the things that really matter. “Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” The traditional Lenten practice of Almsgiving is meant to disengage us from this idolatry of things.
3).  Idolatry. Yes, you heard correctly. I am calling the third temptation, Idolatry as well. We can even turn God and religion into an idol. When we think of the consuming flame of the living God as an object, a thing. Something we can shape and fashion in our own image, bargain with or manipulate according to our own desires. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
This is where the saying, even the devil can quote scripture, comes from. The attempts to seduce Jesus have not been working. So the seducer tries to use the authority of a fragment of scripture against the author of scripture, the living Word of God. It is a temptation to quote scripture out of context. Jesus is the living context of the whole of scripture. ‘Jesus said to him in reply, It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’
Tempting God, putting God to the test, is the ultimate idolatry. We say to God, ‘If I do this, you do this. As if we were in charge, as if ours were the sovereignty. The traditional Lenten practice of Prayer is meant to disengage us from this religious idolatry, a growing awareness that God is God, and I am not.
Fasting and Abstinence, Almsgiving, and Prayer. Three fundamental ways of accompanying Jesus in the desert this Lenten season. Entering into his alternative Exodus, leaving behind the disordered hungers of Egypt, and the slavery of its double idolatry. Entering into the Promised Land of Easter.