Through the weeks of Lent, we'll be trying out a new way to frame our the upcoming Sunday's readings for teachers and preachers...focusing on how we can use the propers for the Sunday as tools for reflection and learning.
Breaking Open the Word:
The readings this week open the season of Lent. The liturgical season has deep roots in the traditions of communities committed to following Christ. First and foremost, the season was set apart as a time of intentional prayer, fasting and for the studying of Holy Scripture. We are getting ready for the drama of Holy Week, when we intentionally (and in real time) commemorate the events leading to the death of Jesus in Jerusalem and the confounding, miraculous grace of his resurrection. It was also a time for converts to be prepared for Baptism (occurring during the Great Vigil of Easter), and for those carrying the burden of notorious sins to be shriven and returned to the fold of the faithful in community.
What better way to begin that pilgrimage than to open the journey with scriptures that focus on our human struggle with temptation, our tendencies to forget God's goodness and our responsibilities to same and the call we embrace to proclaim a savior who brings salvation for all.
Deuteronomy offers a passage that is referred to in Torah studies as the "Ki Tavo" for the first words of direction: "when you enter." The Law directs the people that when they find and make their livings in the Promised Land they are NOT to forget where they came from, the struggles their forebears faced and the grace of God guiding them to rest and prosperity in a land of mile and honey. God gets the commemoration of the FIRST fruits of the harvest, and of our life's work. We forget that, and too often assume that it is by the dint of our hard work that results in "success" when it is by God's grace that we find wholeness in community.
The Psalm challenges us to remember that deliverance, the real sort, comes from God. The rest is illusory.
The Epistle tells us that our part in the gift of new life in Christ is to proclaim the good news. Open our mouths. Sing it. Tell it. Live it. We are to be active players in the life of Christ, not passive and most certainly NOT hidden!
The Gospel account of Jesus' facing temptation in the wilderness makes explicit his frank embrace of his own humanity. We deal constantly with desires that distract us from truth, recklessness that allows us to forget our reliance on God, and our ambitions that let us assume we are in charge of our journey. People don't live on bread alone. People need to trust in God as they strive to live. People cannot in good faith choose dominance over another as a substitute for mutual submission to Christ and to each other.
How It All Links Up:
The big question: Why does Jesus-whom we presume is perfect and sinless-have to go through this ordeal? To add a layer on top of that challenging thought: Why does God direct the prayer in Deuteronomy for the Ki Tavo to be "A wandering Aramean was MY father...." In other words, the struggle for home and identity is not far off and removed by years and years of dwelling in the promised land but just one generation removed...and ALWAYS in present memory.
Perhaps it is simply that God really does "get" us. Jesus, to be truly human AND divine has to face those dark challenges we all face. In order to mature, we have to face selfish desire and overcome it. In order to find peace, we have to discern a way to embrace a power/truth/God that is bigger than our ego, our self. In order to live in community, we have to let go of being the center of it all.
And the deuteronomic directive is clear in that we DON'T get to claim native rights to anything. We are all immigrants, newcomers, those just arrived in a new place. We are all starting over.
What better way to begin Lent? Humble after temptation, present without presumption.
These lessons offer a great opportunity to frame this holy season as a period of time set apart for seeking clarity and regaining composure. Remember who you are by slowing down, facing temptation and taking note of the present. Embrace the challenge of living the moment, living where you are and living in relationship with the people that God has given you.
Let grace in.