First Sunday in Lent
Lectionary: 24 (NAB Translation)
This week’s first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. Just before the death of Moses and before the Israelites enter the Promised land, Moses gives a repetition of the Law given at Mount Sinai and exhorts the people to remember what God has done for them. They must obey God’s commandments if they wish to remain in the Promised Land. Moses gives them a creed to recite that recounts the story of their slavery in Egypt and the extraordinary miracle of their rescue through the waters of the Red Sea. Although delayed for forty years due to their lack of faith and need of purification, the people of God are now about to be allowed to enter the land. This land of “milk and honey,” a land of abundance, is a gift from God but is contingent on the obedience and loyalty of His people. Before allowing them to enter, God establishes a ritual that will help them humbly remember His mercy and to remain loyal to Him, keeping Him first in their priorities. Since they were an agricultural society it was fitting for them to remember him by offering as a sacrifice the first-fruits of their produce. In addition to reminding His people of their total dependence on God, this story serves as a metaphor for Christ’s salvation where after our time in the wilderness of disobedience, we too are saved by Christ in the mercy of God. Our proper response should be to give the best of ourselves – our first fruits – in remembrance of our dependence on God and in thanksgiving for what He has sacrificed for us.
The response for this Psalm is: Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Notice that verses 11 and 12 of Psalm 91 are actually quoted by Satan to Jesus during His temptation in the Wilderness.
The second reading comes from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In this passage St. Paul shows us the beginning of the path to salvation. It begins with confessing that Jesus is our “Lord”. The word “confess” is important because in the Roman Empire, the emperor was considered “Lord.” When a person was confronted and accused of being a Christian such a statement truly was a “confession” and could bring punishment or even death. The Catechism states in CCC 432 that “it is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his Incarnation, so that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” This is a promise of God, but must not be confused for a theological “easy” recipe for salvation as if by reciting the “magic words” we are once saved and always saved (and therefore have a license to sin). Rather this confession must start with conversion of the heart. Jesus teaches us that the promises of God are not to be tested, rather they are to be embraced and lived in sincere love, faith, and obedience.
This passage from St. Luke’s Gospel is the mysterious account of the temptation of Jesus by Satan. Jesus is in the desert for forty days as a reminder of the Exodus where the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert after their rescue from slavery in Egypt. The temptations that Jesus undergoes are the same temptations the Israelites went through in the desert and represent all temptations known to man. The temptation where Jesus is given the option of turning stone to bread to satisfy His appetite represents the temptations of the flesh. When He is taken to the top of mountain and offered power in exchange for worshiping Satan, He is tempted to idolatry with power and pride as motivators. Then when He is taken later to the parapet of temple and tempted to jump off, He is tempted to test God to rescue Him. Likewise, the Israelites in the desert got hungry and were tempted to abandon faith in God. They became fearful and gave in to the temptation to idolatry with the golden calf, and finally they also tested God in the desert when Moses struck the rock to obtain water. Yet where the Israelites failed the tests, Jesus did not. Jesus prayed, fasted, and exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit and passes the test on our behalf, not falling for any of the deceptions of the Devil. Likewise, this forty days of Lent offers us the opportunity to use the same weapons to overcome whatever may be separating us from God.