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Wrestling with the Word, episode 61: First Sunday in Lent, Year C (February 21, 2010) February 16, 2010

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First Sunday in Lent

The Lenten season begins with the story of Jesus’ temptations by the devil. The story sets a certain stage for what is to happen in Jesus’ life, but it also gives us some keys to understanding the promises of God. The Temptation story and its aftermath challenge us in our presumptions of faith. Lent even questions the conviction that “God is on our side” in the struggles we face in the world. It teaches us instead that “God is at our side.” That lesson began when Jesus put his feet into our sandals and began walking with us though our pains, our griefs, our fears, our deaths, and through all the temptations we face as we try to meet them in faith.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 61: First Sunday in Lent, Year C.


Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
The psalm appears to belong to the ritual for seeking refuge in the temple. At someone else’s invitation, the person who is hiding from danger “in the shelter of the Most High” will confess to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (vss. 1-2). Like Psalm 34, the priest or some other “wise” teacher will then instruct the refugee about the rewards of God’s deliverance for those who make such confession (vss. 3-13). Above all, the Lord will send guardian angels to guard such a person from all danger. Finally, God announces the promise of deliverance because of the person’s love for God and who call on God’s name (v. 14). True to his name, the Lord will answer those who call upon him (v. 15) and will reward them with long life and salvation (v. 16).


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Because God responded to the cries for help from the Israelites in bondage, God receives the offering of the harvest from those who acknowledge the Lord’s gifts of land, of salvation, and of crops.

For similar recitals of Israel’s salvation history, see Deut. 6:20-23; Joshua 24:2-13; 1 Samuel 12:8-13; Psalms 105, 106, 135, 136. This recital stands toward the conclusion of the so-called Code of Deuteronomy that encompasses chapters 12—26.

Key Words
V. 1. “the land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance”: The concept of land as an inheritance from the Lord appears frequently in Deuteronomy (see 4:21; 12:9; 15:4; 19:10; 20:16; 21:28; 24:4; 25:19). The notion of inheritance indicates that the Lord is the owner of the land and that Israel receives it without earning or deserving it.

V. 2. ûbā’tā ’el-hammāqōm ’ašer yibqar YHWH ’elōheykā lešākēn šemô šām =  “and you shall enter the place that the Lord your God will choose to make his name dwell there”: The expression, common in Deuteronomy and in the Deuteronomistic history, clarifies that God does not live in the Jerusalem temple but in heaven (26:15; cf. Solomon’s prayer of dedication at 1 Kings 8:27-30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45). God does provide divine presence for the people through the gift of the “name.”

V. 7.  wannitsts‘aq ’el-YHWH … wayišma‘ YHWH ’et-qôlēnû = “And we cried out for help to YHWH, and WHWH heard our voice”: The expression is so common it became technical as Israel’s way of understanding the nature of God when they needed help under injustice or oppression; cf. Exodus 3:7; Judges 3:9, 15; 1 Samuel 9:16; Isaiah 30:18-19. The confidence in YHWH’s hearing and responding lies at the root of all the psalms of lament.

Vv. 8-9.  wayôtsî’ēnû YHWH…  wayhêbî’ēnû = “And YHWH brought us out  … and YHWH brought us in”:  The “bring out—bring in” formula is common in the other recitals listed in the Context.

V. 11. wešāmachtā bekol-hattôb = “and you shall rejoice in all the good(ness)”: The concluding sentence of this liturgical instruction commands joy at the thanksgiving offering. The inclusiveness of the community to which God gives the goodness is exemplary.


Romans 10:8b-13
God gives freely to all people the word/gospel so that we might confess who Jesus is and believe that God raised him from the dead.

Old Testament Allusions
V. 8.  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”:  Deuteronomy 30:14 where it refers to the Code of Deuteronomy.

V. 11.  “No one who believes in him will be put to shame”: Isaiah 28:16 where the context is the saving from the coming judgment.

V. 13.  “every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”: Joel 2:32 where an apocalyptic judgment will bring devastation to all except those who serve the Lord.


Luke 4:1-13
Having resisted the devil’s temptations to prove he was the Son of God by demonstrative miracles, Jesus drove the devil away until the opportune time.

Parallels at Mark 1:12-13//Matthew 4:1-11

Comparison of Lukan and Matthean Accounts

(1) Sequence of temptations
Matthew:  wilderness—temple—a very high mountain
Luke:     wilderness—”up”—Jerusalem’s temple

(2) V. 1:  adds “full of the Holy Spirit”

(3) V. 3:  changes “stones” (pl.) to “stone” (s.)

(4) V. 4:  deletes “but by every word … the mouth of God.”

(4) V. 5:  adds “in a moment of time”

(5) V. 6:  adds “all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I will give it to whom I will.”

(6) V. 13:  adds  achri kairou = “for a time” or perhaps “until an opportune time.” That time will occur when returns to enter Judas at 22:3, and “the power of darkness” inhabits those who came to arrest Jesus at 22:53; note that this expression also at Acts 13:11 in the words of Paul to the “son of the devil” who was Elymas the magician.)

Old Testament Allusions and Quotations
V. 2. “forty … in the wilderness” recalls Israel’s forty years in the wilderness (Deut. 8:2;  Moses “forty days and forty nights” were spent on Mount Sinai/Horeb (Exodus 24:18).

V. 4.  Jesus cites Deuteronomy 8:3, a passage about God’s testing Israel with hunger in the wilderness to teach the lesson cited here.

V. 8.  Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20 exhorting Israel to avoid the worship of any god except the Lord. Both Matthew and Luke use the verb proskonēseis = “fall down before” rather than the LXX phobothēse = “fear, be in awe of,” and both add mono = “only” although the exclusivity is obviously intended in the OT passage.

V. 9.  Narrative is similar to Ezekiel 8:3 where the Spirit takes the prophet (in vision) to Jerusalem’s temple.

Vv. 10-11. Psalm 91:11-12 promises protection of one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and makes YHWH a refuge. While the devil makes inappropriate use of the passage, Jesus uses it himself as he promises protection to the seventy he had commissioned  to announce the kingdom of God (Luke 10:19).

V. 12:  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 which forbids Israel from testing God, as Israel did at Massah (cf. Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:8-10).

Signs of the End
“If you are the Son of God”: The words of the devil will appear on the lips of those who put Jesus on trial: “If you are the Christ, tell us” (Luke 22:67). They also occur by those who mock Jesus on the cross: “If he is the Christ, his Chosen one” (Luke 23:35) and “If you are the King of the Jews,…” (23:37).

“To you I (the devil) will give all this authority and their glory”: On the cross, Jesus promised Paradise to the thief who has asked to participate in the “kingdom” (Luke 23:42-43; note the absence of “if”).