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Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10;8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

Deuteronomy is presented to us as a speech by Moses, reviewing the history of the journey of the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. It was actually written after the fact, after the people have become settled and are enjoying the benefits of this land flowing with “milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:9) Deteronomy is, I believe, a tract in which one of the themes is, “Don’t forget where you have come from and how you got here?” People and nations at times become arrogant when surrounded by wealth and power and success, thinking it is all a product of their skill and wisdom.

I’ve been struck during the current Winter Olympics at a struggle that seems to be going on in Canada’s soul. The perceive themselves as a kinder, gentler nation, friendly and humble. Now they're not as sure about the humility part. They are intent on becoming perceived as “winners”—assertively, if not aggressively, pursuing the gold.

No one would be likely to accuse the U.S. of an attitude of humility, although that is just what Deuteronomy calls for. Perhaps Lent can be a call to a renewed sense of humility in our personal lives, in our spiritual lives, in our politics (from which humility is notably absent these days), etc. In Deuteronomy 8:17, Moses says to the people, “Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” In chapter seven, verses seven and eight, he has said, “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you . . .”

This week’s reading from Deuteronomy, drives it home with the reference in chapter 26, verse 5, to “a wandering Aramean.” There are various interpretations of who the wandering Aramean is. It may be Abraham, although it now is an image applied to the entire people. I am content to see it as a reminder of their roots as a wandering people before they came into possession of this land. Remember where you have come from. There’s no room for arrogance here.

Romans reminds us that God’s love and grace is not limited to a special group of people. It also harks back to Abraham (the wandering Aramean?) to whom the words quoted in chapter ten, verse three, were first spoken: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The key word is “everyone” “for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” Arrogance and exclusiveness often go together (emanating from small minds and spirits) while God is inclusive beyond our wildest imagination.

The Gospel reading from Luke, chapter nine, lets us in on the very human struggle of Jesus as he considers the direction of his life and ministry. He faces a series of temptations put before him by the devil, who quotes scripture thinking that will make them even more palatable.

All of the temptations, I believe, can be seen as temptations to arrogance—the temptation to be the answer to all of the people’s consumer needs (providing all the bread and other goods they ask for), the temptation to become the preeminent politician of the world (the absolute monarch), and the temptation to put on a good show (to be the dazzling entertainer and magician—ala Jesus Christ, Superstar).

This week’s Psalm is included because the devil quotes from it when tempting Jesus. (See Psalm 91:12 and Luke 4:11 about the angels providing protection—a thought that can be comforting at times but cannot be used as a blanket answer to all problems or possibilities, even for Jesus.)

There are many other things in the temptation story that are worthy of consideration. Where does temptation comes from? In Luke’s stories, the Holy Spirit is always present in whatever happens. Here it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness where the devil is the agent of temptation. We could reflect on the use and misuse of scripture, for even the devil is capable of quoting it. We might ask of the cost to Jesus—or ourselves—of giving in to—or resisting—temptation. Giving in means surrendering ourselves to a greater power and giving up the very core of our identity, but resisting can be very costly as well. It eventually took Jesus to a cross.

The story ends on a sobering note. The devil departed “until an opportune time.” Sometimes just when we think we have everything under control, when we think we are living secure in a promised land, is exactly the time to watch out. Arrogance may be lurking just around the corner. Unpleasant as it may be to think about such things, Lent is a season with a little bit (or a lot) of built-in discomfort.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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