Lent 1A (9 March 2014)



  • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 & Psalm 32
  • Romans 5:12-19
  • Matthew 4:1-11


The Gospel passage for this week is widely recognised as a classic mythic tale of the hero overcoming a set of ordeals to establish his credentials in the eyes of the audience. The notes will provide just the text (in a horizontal line synopsis) and the major parallels from various ancient sources.

With the context of the lectionary readings set for this first Sunday of Lent, this Gospel representation of Jesus as the spiritual hero—the “second Adam”, to use the terminology of Paul in 1 Cor 15:45–49—who successfully resists the Tempter, is set against the failure of the “first Adam” who succumbs to temptation and grasps for power, knowledge, and immortality. This mythic background is reinforced by this week’s NT reading (Rom 5:12–19) in which the legacy of Adam’s sin is contrasted with the legacy of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12–19 NRSV)

The lectionary wants us to read the story of Jesus being tempted (tested) through the lens of the “fall” (sic) of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. However, it will be more valid to resist that “framing” of the story, and to read it through the biblical, post-biblical, and interfaith lens of the testing of the hero.

Jesus Tempted

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—develops the tradition into a narrative with three episodes. Despite the change in order of the Temple temptation, the close verbal similarity between the versions in Matthew and Luke is clear:

Matt: He fasted forty days and forty nights,
Luke: where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days,

Matt: and afterwards he was famished.
Luke:and when they were over, he was famished.

Matt: The tempter came and said to him,
Luke: The devil said to him,

Matt: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Luke: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Matt: But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone,
Luke: Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Matt: but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Matt: Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
Luke: Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him,

Matt: saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down;
Luke: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,

Matt: for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
Luke: for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

Matt: and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Luke: and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Matt: Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Luke: Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Matt: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain
Luke: Then the devil led him up

Matt: and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;
Luke: and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

Matt: and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Luke: And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority;
for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.

Matt: Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan!

Matt: for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Luke: Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’

Matt: Then the devil left him,
Luke: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Matt: and suddenly angels came and waited on him.



The Testing of Abraham

Jubilees 17

And it came to pass in the seventh week, in its first year, in the first month, in that jubilee, on the twelfth of that month, that words came in heaven concerning Abraham that he was faithful in everything which was told him and he loved the LORD and was faithful in all affliction. And Prince Mastema came and he said before God, “Behold, Abraham loves Isaac, his son. And he is more pleased with him than everything. Tell him to offer him (as) a burnt offering upon the altar. And you will see whether he will do this thing. And you will know whether he is faithful in everything in which you test him.” And the LORD was aware that Abraham was faithful in all of his afflictions because he tested him with his land, and with famine. And he tested him with the wealth of kings. And he tested him again with his wife, when she was taken (from him), and with circumcision. And he tested him with Ishmael and with Hagar, his maidservant, when he sent them away. And in everything in which he tested him, he was found faithful. And his soul was not impatient. And he was not slow to act because he was faithful and a lover of the LORD. [translated by O.S. Wintermute, OTP 2,90]

Sirach 44

19Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations,
and no one has been found like him in glory.
20He kept the law of the Most High,
and entered into a covenant with him;
he certified the covenant in his flesh,
and when he was tested he proved faithful.
21Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath
that the nations would be blessed through his offspring;
that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth,
and exalt his offspring like the stars,
and give them an inheritance from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

Apocalypse of Abraham

And we went, the two of us alone together, forty days and nights. And I ate no bread and drank no water, because (my) food was to see the angel who was with me, and his discourse with me was my drink. We came to God’s mountain, glorious Horeb. And I said to the angel, “Singer of the Eternal One, behold I have no sacrifice with me, nor do I know a place for an altar on the mountain, so how shall I make the sacrifice?” And he said, “Look behind you.” And I looked behind me. And behold all the prescribed sacrifices were following us: the calf, the she-goat, the ram, the turtledove, and the pigeon. And the angel said to me, “Abraham.” And I said, “Here I am.” And he said to me, “Slaughter all these and divide the animals exactly into halves. But do not cut the birds apart. And give them to the men whom I will show you standing beside you, for they are the altar on the mountain, to offer sacrifice to the Eternal One. The turtledove and the pigeon you will give to me, for I will ascend on the wings of the birds to show you (what) is in the heavens, on the earth and in the sea, in the abyss, and in the lower depths, in the garden of Eden and in its rivers, in the fullness of the universe. And you will see its circles in all. ”
13 And I did everything according to the angel’s command. And I gave the angels who had come to us the divided parts of the animals. And the angel Iaoela took the two birds. And I waited for the evening gift.” And an unclean bird flew down on the carcasses, and I drove it away. And the unclean bird spoke to me and said, “What are you doing, Abraham, on the holy heights, where no one eats or drinks, nor is there upon them food for men. But these all will be consumed by fire and they will burn you up. Leave the man who is with you and flee! For if you ascend to the height, they will destroy you.” And it came to pass when I saw the bird speaking I said this to the angel: “What is this, my lord?” And he said, “This is disgrace, this is Azazel!” And he said to him, “Shame on you, Azazel! For Abraham’s portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth, for you have selected here, (and) become enamored of the dwelling place of your blemish. Therefore the Eternal Ruler, the Mighty One, has given you a dwelling on earth. Through you the all-evil spirit (is) a liar, and through you (are) wrath and trials on the generations of men who live impiously. For the Eternal, Mighty One did not allow the bodies of the righteous to be in your hand, so through them the righteous life is affirmed and the destruction of ungodliness. Hear, counselor, be shamed by me! You have no permission to tempt all the righteous. Depart from this man! You cannot deceive him, because he is the enemy of you and of those who follow you and who love what you wish. For behold, the garment which in heaven was formerly yours has been set aside for him, and the corruption which was on him has gone over to you.”
14 And the angel said to me, “Abraham!” And I said, “Here I am, your servant.” And he said, “Know from this that the Eternal One whom you have loved has chosen you. Be bold and do through your authority whatever I order you against him who reviles justice. Will I not be able to revile him who has scattered about the earth the secrets of heaven and who has taken counsel against the Mighty One? Say to him, ‘May you be the firebrand of the furnace of the earth! Go, Azazel, into the untrodden parts of the earth. For your heritage is over those who are with you, with the stars and with the men born by the clouds, whose portion you are, indeed they exist through your being. Enmity is for you a pious act. Therefore through your own destruction be gone from me! ” And I said the words as the angel had taught me. And he said, “Abraham.” And I said, “Here I am, your servant!” And the angel said to me, “Answer him not!” And he spoke to me a second time. And the angel said, “Now, whatever he says to you, answer him not, lest his will run up to you. For the Eternal, Mighty One gave him the gravity and the will. Answer him not.” And I did what the angel had commanded me. And whatever he said to me about the descent, I answered him not.
15 And it came to pass when the sun was setting, and behold a smoke like that of a furnace, and the angels who had the divided portions of the sacrifice ascended from the top of the furnace of smoke. And the angel took me with his right hand and set me on the right wing of the pigeon and he himself sat on the left wing of the turtledove, (both of) which were as if neither slaughtered nor divided. And he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flames. And we ascended as if (carried) by many winds to the heaven that is fixed on the expanses. And I saw on the air to whose height we had ascended a strong light which cane not be described. And behold, in this light a fiery Gehenna was enkindled, and a great crowd in the likeness of men. They all were changing in aspect and shape, running and changing form and prostrating themselves and crying aloud words I did not know.
[translated by R. Rubinkiewicz, OTP 1,694–6]


Testament of Job, chs 2-8

2 Now I used to be Jobab before the Lord named me Job. When I was called Jobab, I lived quite near a venerated idol’s temple. As I constantly saw whole-burnt offerings being offered up there, I began reasoning within myself saying, “Is this really the God who made heaven and earth, the sea too, and our very selves? How shall I know?”
3 One night as I was in bed a loud voice came to me in a very bright light saying, “Jobab, Jobab!” And I said, “Yes? Here I am.” And he said, “Arise, and I will show you who this is whom you wish to know. This one whose whole-burnt offerings they bring and whose drink offerings they pour is not God. Rather, his is the power of the devil, by whom human nature” is deceived.”
When I heard these things, I fell on my bed worshiping and saying, “My Lord, who came for the salvation of my soul, I beg you—if this is indeed the place of Satan by whom men are deceived—grant me authority to go and purge his place so that I may put an end to the drink offerings being poured for him. Who is there to forbid me, since I rule this region?”
4 The light answered me and said, “You shall be able to purge this place. But I am going to show you all the things which the Lord charged me to tell you.”
And I said, “Whatever he has charged me, his servant, I will hear and do.”
Again he said, “Thus says the Lord: If you attempt to purge the place of Satan, he will rise up against you with wrath for battle. But he will be unable to bring death upon you. He will bring on you many plagues, he will take away for himself your goods, he will carry off your children. But if you are patient, I will make your name renowned in all generations of the earth till the consummation of the age.” And I will return you again to your goods. It will be repaid to you doubly, so you may know that the Lord is impartial—rendering good things to each one who obeys. And you shall be raised up in the resurrection. For you will be like a sparring athlete,” both enduring pains and winning the crown. Then will you know that the Lord is just, true, and strong, giving strength to his elect ones.”
5 And I, my little children, replied to him, “Till death I will endure: I will not step back at all.” After I had been sealed by the angel when he left me, my little children, then—having arisen the next night—I took fifty youths with me, struck off for the temple of the idol, and leveled it to the ground. And so I withdrew into my house, having ordered the doors to be secured.
6 Listen, little children, and marvel. For as soon as I entered into my house and secured my doors, I charged my doormen thus, “If anyone should seek me today, give no report; but say, ‘He has no time, for he is inside concerned with an urgent matter.’
So while I was inside Satan knocked at the door, having disguised himself as a beggar. And he said to the doormaid, “Tell Job I wish to meet with him.” When the doormaid came and told me these things, she heard me say to report that I had no time just now.
7 When he heard that, Satan departed and put a yoke on his shoulders. And when he arrived, he spoke to the doormaid saying, “Say to Job, ‘Give me a loaf of bread from your hands, so I may eat.’ “So I gave a burnt loaf of bread to the girl to give to him and said to him, “Expect to eat my loaves no longer, for you are estranged from me.”
Then the doormaid, ashamed to give him the burnt and ashen loaf of bread (for she did not know he was Satan), took the good loaf of her own and gave it to him. And when he received it and knew what had occurred he said to the girl, “Off with you, evil servant. Bring the loaf of bread given you to be given to me.” The girl wept with deep grief, saying, “Truly, you well say I am an evil servant. For if I were not, I would have done just as it was assigned to me by my master.” And when she returned, she brought him the burnt loaf of bread, saying to him, “Thus says my lord, ‘You shall no longer eat from my loaves at all, for I have been estranged from you. Yet I have given you this loaf of bread in order that I may not be accused of providing nothing to a begging enemy.'”
When he heard these things, Satan sent the girl back tome saying, “As this loaf of bread is wholly burnt, so shall I do to your body also. For within the hour, I will depart and devastate you.” And I replied to him, “Do what you will. For if you intend to bring anything on me, I am prepared to undergo whatever you inflict.”
8 After he withdrew from me, when he had gone out under the firmament, he implored the Lord that he might receive authority over my goods. And then, when he had received the authority, he came and took away all my wealth.
[translated by R.P. Spittler, OTP 1,840–42]


Interfaith Parallels


Marcus Borg [Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings] notes the following traditions about the Buddha that provide something of a parallel to this cluster:

Then Mara the evil one drew near to him, and said: “Let the Exalted One exercise governance, let the Blessed One rule.”
“Now what, O evil one, do you have in view, that you speak this way to me?”
“If the Exalted One were to wish the Himalayas, king of the mountains, to be gold, he might determine it to be so, and the mountains would become a mass of gold?’
The Exalted One responded: “Were the mountains all of shimmering gold, it would still not be enough for one man’s wants. He that has seen suffering — how should that man succumb to desires?”
Then Mara the evil one thought: “The Exalted One knows me! The Blessed One knows me!” And sad and sorrowful he vanished then and there.
(Samyutta Nikaya 4.2.10)

During the six years that the Bodhisattva practiced austerities, the demon followed behind him step by step, seeking an opportunity to harm him. But he found no opportunity whatsoever and went away discouraged and discontent.
(Lalitavistara Sutra 18)

I thought: “Suppose I practice entirely cutting off food?’ Then the deities came to me and said: “Good sir, do not practice entirely cutting off food. If you do so, we shall infuse heavenly food into the pores of your skin and you will live on that.”
(Majjhima Nikaya 36.27)

Islamic Texts

34 Satan said to Jesus when he placed him in Jerusalem, You claim to raise the dead. If you can truly do so, ask God to turn this mountain to bread.” Jesus said, “Do all people live from bread?” Satan said, “If you are what you claim to be, jump from this place, for the angels will receive you.” Jesus said, “God ordered me not to put myself to the test, for I do not know whether He will save me or not.”

119 Satan passed by while Jesus was reclining his head upon a stone. “So, then, Jesus, you have been satisfied with a stone in this world! ” Jesus removed the stone from beneath his head, threw it at him, and said, “Take this stone, and the world with it! I have no need of either.”

206 It is related that Satan once appeared before Jesus and said to him, “Say: ‘There is no god but God.” Jesus replied, “Righteous words which I will not repeat after you.” This is because Satan’s deceptions can lurk even beneath good.

209 It is told that Jesus spent sixty days inmate conversation with his Lord without eating. Then the thought of bread occurred to him and his intimacy was interrupted. At once a loaf of bread appeared in his hands, so he sat down and wept for the loss of intimacy. At that moment, an old man cast his shadow upon him and Jesus said to him, “God bless you, friend of God. Pray to God for me, for I was in a trance and the thought of bread occurred to me, and so my trance was interrupted.” The old man prayed, “O God! If you know that the thought of bread has occurred to me since I have known You, do not forgive me. On the contrary, if anything was brought before me, I would eat it without any thought of it.”

278 Satan appeared to Jesus in the visible form of an old man. “Spirit of God, say: ‘There is no god but God,” he bade him, hoping that he [would repeat this after him and thus] would have obeyed him to that extent. Jesus answered, “I say it – but not because you said it: there is no god but God.” Satan departed in disgrace.

292 Satan asked Jesus, “Can your God cause the world to be contained by an egg, in such a way that the world is not shrunk and the egg is not enlarged?” Jesus replied, “Woe to you! Incapacity cannot be attributed to God. Who is more powerful than Him who can cause the world to become fine and delicate and the egg to grow great?”

300 It is related that Satan appeared to Jesus decked out in pendants of diverse colors and kinds. Jesus asked, “What are these pendants?” “These are the lusts of mankind,” Satan replied. “Have I anything to do with any of them?” Jesus asked. “Perhaps you ate your fill and we made you too sluggish to pray or mention God,” Satan replied. “Is there anything else?” asked Jesus. “No,” said Satan. “I vow before God never to fill my belly with food,” said Jesus. “And I vow before God never again to advise a Muslim,” Satan replied.
[Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus, 2001]

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

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Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

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