First Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Lenten temptations and journey

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Matthew 4:1 – 2)

I was curious, so I looked up Jesus and the concept of fasting for 40 days and nights. As with most Google searches, a lot of information (both helpful and unhelpful) was there. I would not put it past the writer of Matthew to access the 40 days as symbolic rather than chronological. But that is not my point, nor I think is it the point of the writer of Matthew. The point is, beloved reader, Jesus’ physical body was in need of nourishment. His spirit/Spirit however . . .

“The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Verses 3 – 4)

People have all kinds of relationships to food. And all kinds of relationships to God. Tending to each carefully is part of living an authentic Christian life. There were other points in Jesus’ life and ministry where food, and drink, play important roles. But we are not done reading this passage, and neither was the tempter.

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
(Verses 5 – 7)

I would to look up how that is said in other translations. But I suspect it would be presented with the same sort of wording. But it makes me think about all the people in human history who have dared to do something daring. Or, those who through no fault of their own have been put in precarious situations.

But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we? It is not as if God is going to “fail” the test. There is though, free will that has corresponding consequences. It is best then to travel with God and not act contrary to one’s own fallible human limits.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” (Verses 8 – 11)

There are limits then to what Jesus was willing to put with. Target human body frailty, and most humans will rise above their baser desires. Target human sense of safety and security, and most people will stay within sensible limits. But target human awareness of God’s authority, and that might be the breaking point. Jesus did not break.

“Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Verse 11)

I am very glad for verse 11. When we have been tempted and tortured by the tempter and the devil, and have resisted with all our might and strength, it is good to know that our needs will be ministered to. May you carry out your Lenten journey strong in the Lord God and assured of the Divine’s tender attention and mercies. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Psalms Passage – The “Joy” of Lent

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”  (Psalm 32:1 – 2)

It is not quite usual for there to be “happy” and “joy” in Lent. We usually think of it as dour and sober time in the church year. I think we might be mistaken if that is our only impression of Lent. The time of Lent travels along the same time lines as Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus’s disciples did not know their teacher then/Lord later as someone who was somber and restrained. I am not sure if any biblical commentator has looked at Jesus’ life for times of levity and humor, and joy. But I am sure it would be there!

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah” (Verses 3 – 5)

The Lord does not want us to be in misery and pain. That is contrary to the purpose and reason that Christ came. Jesus said his burden is light and his yoke is easy. That is not the invitation of a humorless Messiah.

“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah” (Verses 6 – 7)

I am not sure about the “humor” level or function of the psalmist though. However, the human life has joy and happiness in it. Humanity would not have survived and advance if there was not. And I think humor has an important place in ministry, as does joy and happiness. We do Christianity a disservice if there is not.

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Verses 8 – 11)

Yes, beloved reader, shout for and in joy! Selah!

First Sunday in Lent: The Old Testament Passage – “Look, but don’t touch?” It’s our choice!

It is another jam-packed week, beloved readers. Having had Transfiguration Sunday, we now move into Lent. And the first major day in Lent is Ash Wednesday. Before Wednesday, however, I want to put us in a frame of mind to understand what Ash Wednesday is, and why we need it. Then when Wednesday comes, we will consider some of the passages that make up that day.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:15 – 17)

“Look, but don’t touch!” That is a caution that most parents give at least once. Because in the world of a toddler there is so much to see and experience, but also so much that small hands should leave alone. Even some adults have a hard time keeping their hands off of/out of things that they should not meddle in. And the warning from our Divine Parent is often not heeded.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman,”Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Chapter 3, verses 1 – 5)

“Look, but don’t touch!” Not everything in creation is for all people; some things are specially created for certain people. Not everyone is equally gifted and blessed. People vary widely in their abilities and skills. And while we can admire what another person has, or what they can do, not everything is for every person. Looking, admiring, and enjoying the sight of sometimes have to be enough.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Verses 6 – 7)

“Look, but don’t touch!” How can it be “sin” to take hold of something and claim it as one’s own? How can it be “sin” to incorporating items and understandings into our selves? How can that be “sin”? Well, technically it is not. But one decision leads to another, that leads to another, and before you know it we are down a path that has unfortunate consequences.

The philosopher might ask why God put something in the garden that was so dangerous? The theologian might ask was original sin inevitable? The psychologist might ask when does a person become self-aware? I am wondering why God created a sneaky snake?!

“Look, but don’t touch!” Free will – we would not be human without it. If there was not something in the garden that tested humanity, how would humanity learn? Just as the Lord God created a tree/fruit that was unhealthy and allowed a creature that personified temptation, the Lord God also sent a Messiah that we must deliberately chose to follow and emulate.

We can chose to hold onto disbelief; or we can believe in God. That is the primary task of new believers, who are the focus of this lectionary year. We can chose to keep sinning, however we are sinning; or we can chose to confess, do penance, and be forgiven. That was the focus last year. We can continue on our way, struggling with life and faith; or we can renew and recommit ourselves to the Lord God. That is the task of the lectionary year to come. All of these things are our choices; and Ash Wednesday is one of the pivotal days for these choices. May you chose well believed reader! Selah!