- Deuteronomy 26:1-11 & Ps 91:1-2,9-16
- Romans 10:8b-13
- Luke 4:1-13
Introduction: Times and Seasons
This week sees the beginning of the most tightly structured of the liturgical seasons as we move towards Easter:
- SHROVE TUESDAY (in French, Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday”) has its origins in the need to consume any remaining eggs and fat prior to the commencement of the austerities of the Lenten fast. These days pancake parties provide an opportunity for a final celebration before we settle down to some serious spiritual efforts during Lent.
- ASH WEDNESDAY marks the formal commencement of Lent, and is timed to allow 40 days of fasting without counting the Sundays (since they are always little festivals of the resurrection, and cannot be counted as a fast day). In the ancient church, people who had sinned so badly that they had been excluded from church life could prepare for readmission by public penance, including being marked with ashes as a sign of sorrow for their sins. From as early as 1,000 CE we find the rest of the community of faith was encouraged also to receive the ashes of repentance as a reminder that we have all sinned, and that all of us need constant forgiveness and restoration.
- LENT is an extended period of personal and communal preparation for the great celebration of Easter. The idea of “giving something up for Lent” is familiar to a great many people, but these days we are often encouraged to take something up instead. The extra commitment that is the heart of our Lenten discipline may take the form of more regular attendance at worship, joining a study and discussion program, reviewing our personal priorities and values, or giving some additional time or financial support to peace and justice projects.
- HOLY WEEK turns our attention to the commemoration of Jesus’ final days, beginning with the processions and songs of Palm Sunday through to his death on the cross and then the joy of Easter morning.
The Scripture selections during this season will be as follows:
Deut 26:1-11 & Ps 91
Gen 15:1-12,17-18 & Ps 27
Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28b-36
Isa 55:1-9 & Ps 63:1-8, or Exod 3:1-8a, 13-15
Josh 5:9-12 & Ps 32
Isa 43:16-21 & Ps 126
Jesus Tempted Three Times
The idea of the hero facing various tests, including temptations to sell out to the dark side or to embrace a lesser good rather than pursue his high destiny, is a common theme in folk lore. Various parallels in Jewish texts, as well as similar traditions about the Buddha (and Muslim traditions about the temptations of Jesus), are listed at:
Mark has a just a very brief tradition of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts;
and the angels waited on him. [Mark 1:12-13]
The Sayings Gospel Q — dated well before Mark by most NT scholars and thus a compilation more or less contemporary with the letters of Paul — already develops the tradition into a narrative with the familiar three episodes. The triple episodes most likely reflect the story-teller’s craft: both as an aid to his own memory and also for its impact on the audience. Despite the change in order of the Temple temptation, the close verbal similarity between the versions in Matthew and Luke is clear:
The Jesus Seminar judgment on this tradition is seen in the following extract from The Acts of Jesus:
In spite of the fact that these stories are legends, the Fellows were about evenly divided on whether Jesus went on a vision quest in the desert, or whether he fasted for an extended period and got hungry as a result. It seems plausible that he did so as he worked out his relation to John the Baptist and contemplated the future of his own work. Simple plausibility, however, can be a cruel friend to historical reconstruction, tempting the historian to assert facts when there is only speculation …
In each temptation Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy … where Moses is described receiving the Law from Yahweh on Mount Sinai. The temptation story is thus a retelling of that ancient story but substituting Jesus for Moses. Just as Moses and Israel were tempted during their forty years in the wilderness, so Jesus was tempted during his forty days in the wilderness. Israel was tempted by hunger; that hunger was sated by the “manna that fell from heaven” each day. Jesus is tempted by hunger but refuses to turn stones into bread. Israel was tempted by idolatry; Jesus is tempted to worship Satan. In Jewish lore, this kind of retelling, or reimagining, is called haggadah.
In Matthew, the temptations of Jesus are arranged in a spatial progress from low to high: first he is taken to the desert, then placed on the pinnacle of the temple, then carried to a high mountain. This corresponds to the progression in Matthew’s gospel: Jesus’ ministry begins in the desert and ends on a mountain in Galilee from which he ascends. Luke has altered the order of the temptations in order to have Jesus wind up in Jerusalem: for Luke Jerusalem is the navel of the earth, where the story begins and ends.
John Dominic Crossan [The Historical Jesus] offers the following comments on the social location of those responsible for shaping this tradition:
The basis of that triple temptation is an opposition between magic and exegesis, between miraculous activity and exegetical citation. Miracles are dismissed, obliquely, as self-serving acts such as turning stones into bread when one is hungry, as temptations such as descending from the pinnacle of the Temple, or as demonic collusion such as gaining the world by obeying Satan. Jesus overcomes Satan, and even his quotation of Psalm 91:11-12, by three separate quotations from Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13. But that opposition between magic and exegesis also represents a distinction in class. Even though, in Lenksi’s typology, the peasant class is not the only one that could appreciate magic, it would take the retainer class to appreciate the scribal exactitude of such exegetical quotations. Peasants would, know, in their Little Tradition, the general themes and dominant emphases of the Great Tradition. But their illiteracy would preclude the fuel of citation practiced here by Satan and Jesus. All such precise search and verbatim application presume not only developed literacy but also exegetical dexterity. A retainer-class believer is now interpreting the peasant-class Jesus.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.