This is the first Sunday of Lent, a 40-day period of preparation to celebrate Easter. Lent can be seen as a retreat undertaken by the entire church to deepen our faith before our annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is patterned on Jesus' 40 days of fasting before the beginning of his public ministry that is mentioned in today's gospel reading. As we begin Lent, the readings for this Sunday call us to resist temptation as Jesus did by remaining true to the basic truths of our faith, much of which is identical to the faith of Israel.
The reading from letter of St. Paul to the Romans presents the essence of Christian faith most simply. Paul comments on Deut 30:14, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” He says that the word that is on our lips is the confession that Jesus is Lord; the word that is in our heart is the belief that God raised him from the dead. Reduced to its simplest form, our faith as Christians is faith that God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord of all.
Paul presents this statement of Christian faith as an interpretation of a passage from Deuteronomy. This indicates that the distinctive Christian affirmation that Jesus is Lord flows out of, and fulfills, the faith of Israel. The other readings make even more explicit the relationship between Christian faith and the faith of Israel, especially as expressed in the book of Deuteronomy.
The first reading is a passage from the book of Deuteronomy that contains an early creed of Israel. This creed was to be spoken when Israelites offered the first fruits of the harvest to God, and it summarizes the basic beliefs of the people of Israel. Israel believes that God rescued it from oppression at the hands of the Egyptians by bringing it out of the land of Egypt and establishing it in the promised land. This belief of Israel is one that we as Christians also affirm.
The reading from the gospel according to Luke describes how Jesus resisted three temptations by quoting the book of Deuteronomy. Tempted to change stones into bread, Jesus quoted Deut 8:3, “One does not live on bread alone.” Tempted to worship the devil, Jesus quoted Deut 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.” And tempted to throw himself down from the temple, Jesus quoted Deut 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” The devil supported this last temptation by quoting a passage from Psalm 91. In resisting this temptation Jesus saw that the Deuteronomy passage was the one to follow in this situation. All of these beliefs of Israel about the proper way for us to relate to God, found in Deuteronomy and affirmed by Jesus, are also part of our faith as Christians.
These readings mention several specific beliefs of Israel that are part of our Christian faith. And there are many others. In general we Christians believe what Israel believes. But in addition we believe that God has fulfilled his promises to save Israel and the entire human race by raising Jesus from the dead and making him Lord.
We begin our observance of Lent by recalling the fundamentals of our faith. Let us imitate Jesus by fasting and by taking a stand on the truths of our faith in order to resist temptation.
© Terrance Callan