Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures this Lent are a tour through the history of ancient Israel. This morning’s reading is a creedal summary of the events leading up to the Exodus, meant to be a reminder to Israel of what God had done for them. The creed at its most basic is “I was nothing…I was delivered…I was given abundance.” Their remembrance was to be made tangible through on offering of “first fruits.” Secondary generosity is seen as a symptom of amnesia and faithlessness.
The first two verses of Psalm 91 are an exhortation to trust. Verses 9-16 are promises of the results of that trust. The promises are comforting, but perhaps unsettling to anyone whose faithfulness has not been rewarded in these ways. It is important to note that it is the devil who uses verses 11-12 to tempt Jesus. Jesus’ reply makes clear we are not to use such promises as a way to test God.
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,
10 There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
14 Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
Our second reading today begins with a quote from Deuteronomy (30:14), which Paul uses in his argument (an argument which has been going on for some time in this letter) that it is the righteousness of faith that saves us, not the righteousness received from following the law. This reading is a concise statement of Paul’s understanding of salvation, including the universality of its scope. The final quote is Joel 2:32.
The account of Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation in the wilderness is always the Gospel reading on the 1st Sunday in Lent. The Spirit is the director of the action, as it is throughout Luke’s Gospel. The devil figure in the story can in many ways be seen as the “anti-Spirit.” Jesus reaches back to Deuteronomy for each of his retorts (8:3, 10:20, 6:16). The devil uses this morning’s psalm (91:11-12) as well as Deuteronomy (6:13). There is an appropriate and inappropriate use of Scripture. Overall, the story wants us to be clear about the reality of evil. As one commentator says, “In whatever images or concepts the power of evil may be presented, it is the testimony of experience as well as Scripture that there is in the world opposition to love, health, wholeness, and peace” (Fred Craddock, et al., Preaching through the Christian Year C, 1994, p. 140).