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Friday, March 11, 2011

First Sunday in Lent, Year A, Matthew 4:1-11

"This text teaches us to celebrate the power of embodying the gift of being children of God, realizing a spiritual life that daily prepares us to recognize temptation and having the tools that will allow us to see and transcend them, before they morph into addictions."

Lectionary Commentary,
Matthew 4:1-11, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, The African-American Lectionary, 2009.

Matthew 4:1-11
4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text

Textweek General Resources

Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew

Some interesting articles on this passage:

William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today

Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

Because you formed us from the dust, Lord God, you know well how deeply sin has scarred our human nature.  Strengthen us, then, as we set ou t on the lenten journey.  Make us victorious with Christ over the deceptions of the tempter, so we may come at length in the joy of the HOly Spirit to the celebration of the Lord's glorious Passover.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...

"The concern of the passage is not so much whether the devil can lure Jesus into this or that sin as it is the portrayal of Jesus as God's Son.' who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.'" (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 68).

We cannot read this text without having in mind the questions in Deuteronomy 6.13, 6.16, and 8.3).
6.13The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.

6.16Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah

8.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

These questions come just as the people of Israel are about to enter into the promised land. They are asked in the desert to the people by Moses.  The questions from Moses are the final testing of the Israelite people's desert pilgrimage. 

In this light we see again the the Matthean revelation that Jesus is Son of God who fulfills all righteousness. Jesus also is the new Israel.  We then as his followers are also to be the body of Christ incarnate in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and in this way we too are to be faithful as Jesus and as the people Israel - choosing to serve God, not testing God, and humbling ourselves before the tasks that are before us.

The scholar Harrington writes:
Understanding this text against the background of Deuternomy 6-8 allows one to go beyond the narrow themes of fasting and temptation to the level of Christology.  As in the case of all the material in the opening chapters of Matthew, the focus of attention is the identity of Jesus.  Understanding it as the testing of God's son allows one to see the nature of Jesus' divine sonship and its relation to Israel as God's Son." (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 70)

Taking this even further we see that as individuals marking our own pilgrim way of Lent that we are to be the new Israel birthed out of the resurrection and Pentecost.  We are to faithful in our work and in our mission.  And, to do so we must recognize, name and overcome the temptations and liabilities of human existence.

If we step back we see an important order to the events occurring in the life of Jesus.  We see a movement from wilderness to Temple to mountain and out into the world - a new creation.  Our Exodus themes are powerfully present foreshadowing Jesus' own deliverance, and the deliverance of the world. 

Lent is a good time to hold our lives up before God and to ask for clarity about that work of honesty and intentionality.  It is a time for us to accept clearly as Christians what God's will is for us.  Some question this and will be tempted to say we don't know what God's will is for us.  That simply is not a fact.  Christians for centuries have understood God's will for us and it is rooted in scripture.  We cannot escape the scripture (the canon, rule, or measure of life). 

As Episcopalians we know we are tempted to test God, to not be humble and to seek our own wealth and ego satisfaction over others. As Episcopalians we often begin our Lenten liturgy with the ten commandments: God's will for us.  I encourage you to turn to the back of your prayer book and see in the catechism of the Episcopal Church how we interpret the ten commandments and how they are a good mirror to a holy and full life lived as God intends.

Here is how our Book of Common Prayer Catechism speaks about the Ten Commandments:

Q. What do we learn from these commandments?
A. We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.

Q. What is our duty to God?
A. Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
I. To love and obey God and to bring others to
know him;
II. To put nothing in the place of God;
III. To show God respect in thought, word, and
IV. And to set aside regular times for worship,
prayer, and the study of God’s ways.
Q. What is our duty to our neighbors?
A. Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
V. To love, honor, and help our parents and
family; to honor those in authority, and to meet
their just demands;
VI. To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;
VII. To use all our bodily desires as God intended;
VIII. To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;
IX. To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
X. To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people’s gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.
Q. What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.
We are not simply people after peace and justice but we are people who are deeply rooted in a tradition that seeks to tell our story through virtuous action.  We know God’s will for us and for creation. We know what we are to do. We are to be virtuous citizens not only on Sundays, not only within the walls of our homes; we are to be virtuous citizens at work in the political and social environs of our community. And, when we don’t follow these commandments we are to repent and return to the Lord, and begin the work again.

As we make our way through Lent let us be truthful enough with ourselves to honor the fact that we have put our needs above God's desires. We have tested God and we have failed to answer the questions put to Jesus as with the people of Israel as faithful sons and daughters of the most high God.  And, in our truthfulness let us be humbled to seek to change our lives and our ways to better reflect the people we were created and saved to be. 

The Lambeth Bible Study Method

This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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