Humanity has always struggled with the question ‘where can I Find God?’ Some attest that God can be found in the faces of the poor and those who are struggling. Others mention of finding God in silence and reflection. These six weeks of Lent is an opportunity for rediscovering God in a more organized manner a true friend.
First reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10
If friends were looking for God I would tell them to read the commandments which represent the covenant and the enduring values. This is precisely what Deuteronomy recommends to us in today’s first reading, saying, that Israel reviews its salvation history. Israel’s confession of faith is summed up in three decisive events that have shaped its evolution as a people: 1- the demographic shift from Mesopotamia to Canaan and Egypt when God called Abraham; 2- their deliverance from Egypt as slaves and their passage to freedom through the covenanted/Exodus; 3- the Promised Land of Canaan and Israel’s eventual possession of it. By retelling their story of salvation, Israel affirmed its connection with God as a powerful savoir.
This recitation is regarded as the most ancient and important creed in the Pentateuch and was part of a liturgy of thanksgiving that accompanied the ritual offering of the first fruits. Thankful for the crops being harvested, the Israelites acknowledged that the abundance they enjoyed was due to God’s provident care. Like in the exodus, the Israelites infiltrated and eventually conquered Canaan. Their celebration of the first fruits was recognition that it was one great God who commanded all the forces, laws and entities of nature because he had chosen to become personally and intimately involved in their life. It is our duty not the loose God.
Second reading: Romans 10:8-13
It is true that Christ died for our sins. It is true that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. It is true that Christ has defeated death. Paul wants each one of us to formulate a personal creed containing these essential elements of the Christian faith. Moreover, as he stressed in his Letter to the Romans, Christian faith must be a lived response to God wherein the faith in the heart is confessed with the lips. Christianity is belief plus confession which involves witnessing Jesus before people. In citing this particular creed “for if you confess. .. and believe. . . you will be saved”, Romans 10:9, Paul is repeating one of the earliest formulas of Christian faith sung as part of the baptismal liturgy. In this way Paul formulates a lengthy faith defense against those Jews who refused to accept Jesus as Lord cf. Romans 10: 9-11. Paul pleaded, persuaded and even challenged his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus justifying his argument with texts of this nature.
Having grown up within the heritage and traditions of Judaism, Paul was fully aware of the Jewish understanding of justification as a process whereby a believer was made just by his/her obedience to the Torah/law. Many Jews could not reconcile their beliefs regarding justification with Paul’s claim that justification was no longer attainable through the law but only by faith. Elsewhere, Paul conceded that the law had served a purpose, albeit a temporary one, in that it safeguarded and instructed humankind until such time as God saw fit to send the messiah. But with the coming of Jesus and through his saving works, the law has been superseded.
Whereas observance of the law defined and distinguished Jews from Greeks, faith in Jesus, and justification by him affords unity to the community of believers. All who confess that ‘Jesus is Lord!’ whether Jew or Greek; are united by that shared creed. Paul again appeals to us by quoting the prophet Joel “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Joel 3:5.
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
Although many think it passé to speak of the devil and choose to reject the notion of personified evil or the existence of a tempter, nevertheless, on every first Sunday of Lent, Satan rears his ugly head and commands the attention of the gathered assembly. The tradition that Jesus was tempted was widely confirmed in early Church. Treated briefly by Mark 1:12-13; it was more elaborately described by Matthew, Luke and in the Letter to the Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:15.
Each of the temptations in Jesus’ desert dialogue with the devil unfolds like an act in a three-act drama. In the first act, Jesus is tempted to use his saving power for his own satisfaction. By turning stones into bread he would be manifesting God-like power as when manna was provided in the desert. Jesus’ response to his tempter was reminiscent of Israel’s desert experience cf. Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus recalled Israel’s longing for the foods they had left behind in Egypt including bread, onions, meat and their dissatisfaction with the sustenance with manna, quail and water from the rock which God provided. Unlike the grumbling Israelites, Jesus was pleased to be nourished by the food that God provided for him, meaning, every word that comes forth from the mouth of God and doing the will of the Father cf. John 4:24.
In his second proposal to Jesus, the devil suggests that Jesus exercise a universal kingship and reign over a universal kingdom that he, the devil would confer upon him if only Jesus would agree to worship him. Faithful only to God’s dominion over all; Jesus rebuked the devil again with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:13. Unlike Israel, Jesus could not be lured by the power, glory and cults of any other kingdom.
As if in an attempt to ‘beat Jesus at his own game’, the devil couched his third temptation within a citation from scripture. Quoting from the Psalter, the devil goaded Jesus to exercise his saving power in a dazzling and ostentatious display, by throwing himself from the parapet of the temple. If Jesus were truly the Son of God then “the Most High would command the angels to bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone” Psalm 91:11-12. Here the devil was also alluding to the popular rabbinical saying that at his coming the messiah would appear suddenly on the pinnacle of the temple. “When the king; the messiah reveals himself he will stand on the roof of the temple” Pesiqta rabbati # 36. Unmoved by this third and gravest temptation, Jesus responded, again in the words of Deuteronomy 6:16 that, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” Luke 4:13 silenced the devil and also affirmed his identity as both Lord and God.
Luke leaves us with the assurance that this was only a skirmish in Jesus’ protracted battle with evil; the devil left Jesus, but would wait for another opportunity. Indeed, the tempter would return to lure Jesus away from his mission and weaken his resolve many times during his ministry. As Luke tells us, Jesus was able to survive each incursion because, as was his custom, he often withdrew for a while to find God in prayer. Through those moments of encounter with God, Jesus was strengthened and was prepared for the ultimate conflict with evil on the Cross. Through this gospel Jesus teaches us that even in the midst of temptation and trial never go it alone without God. There is no place and no suffering which is devoid of the divine presence. As we are being renewed by this Lent experiences, it is helpful to remember the words of Jeremiah when God affirmed to him that “when you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, your God” Jeremiah 29:12-14.
The Ten Commandments form our core values; we have to keep our eyes, mind and heart focused on them, least we forget. We should never dare to loose the sight of God. We are a people of the resurrection; let us allow Christ space in our lives who alone can save us. The devil seems wise but is not; please avoid his advice because it is simply a temptation. The real issue in life is not bread or stones. Both are good things when used accordingly. God has already assigned each its right purpose. Let us not interchange them by using stones for food and bread for building because it will not work out. Remember that only doubtful people demand signs; faithful people don’t need extraordinary proof. Never jump off a building to prove that God cares for you, he does already. Avoid doubting and start believing.