The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (email@example.com) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'. This week, however, the first portion is not available.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
The First Sunday In Lent - Year C
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 The offering of the first fruits of the harvest
was one of the great festivals in Israel’s temple ritual. As with most
ancient festivals, the practice of dedicating the first sheaf of grain to
be harvested to Yahweh had much earlier origins.
An ancient taboo lay behind it, rooted in the concept of divine property
rights. All created beings of any kind belonged to the deity and were
therefore regarded as holy. Ps.24:1 gives this concept explicit
expression. Before being consumed by humans, they had to be "redeemed" for
profane use. If this was not done, divine justice entailed retribution.
The only way to resolve this problem was to give back to the deity the
first part of the tabooed object, thus nullifying the deity's prior
property rights. Thus ancient Israelites dedicated the first fruits of the
harvest to Yahweh. They similarly dedicated their first-born animals and
gave special place of reverence to their first born sons.
Though the liturgical celebration of this festival probably developed much
later, in this passage Moses is said to have initiated the ritual as a
commandment from God. This passage is part of a major section of
Deuteronomy (chs.12-26) written as if Moses delivered the law on almost all
aspects of the covenanted nation's life as revealed by Yahweh on Sinai.
For us, the passage lifts up the fundamental concept of stewardship:
offering to God the first returns of our labour, now usually measured in
monetary terms, as an act of worship and thanksgiving, and as a symbol of
the dedication of ourselves and all our possessions to God.
Psalm 91:1-2,9-16 This psalm proclaims the traditional faith that
total dependence on God brings providential protection from evil. It may
be claimed that the psalmist has little or no awareness of the complexity
of the problem of evil. The perils of living in an imperfect world do not
seem to worry him or detract from absolute trust. This recalls Ps.46 as a
similar confession of trust.
It would appear that the psalm was chosen for the first Sunday of Lent
because vv.11-12 are quoted by Satan in tempting Jesus in Matthew 4:6 and
Like 4:10-11. On the other hand, we should interpret the devoutly
expressed trust metaphorically rather than literally as Satan did. Jesus
replied in such a way as to deflect such an interpretation by quoting
another scripture text from Deuteronomy 6:16.
The concluding vss. 4-16 give a different bent to the psalmist's trust.
The basis for it lies in the covenant love between God and Israel which
extends to each individual. The RSV and NEB convey this better than the
NRSV: "Because is love is set on me, I will deliver him; I will lift him
beyond danger, for he knows me by my name." (NEB) God does this graciously
and mercifully because it is God's nature to do so, and it is in
fulfillment of the covenant, not as a reward for good behaviour.
Romans 10:8b-13 This passage belongs to one of the major segments of
Paul's letter - chs.9-11 - in which he struggles to explain how both Jews
and Gentiles can have a right relationship with God through faith alone.
His audience was a predominantly Jewish community in Rome, so he is at
pains to clarify the reasons for his Gentile mission and his attitude to
the rejection of the gospel by many of his fellow Jews. In his classic
Moffat New Testament Commentary (1932) C.H. Dodd suggested that this
section may even have stood alone, perhaps as a sermon, which Paul
incorporated into his letter. If so, some sermon!
For Jews, Paul claims, their relationship with God depended on keeping of
the commandments of God given through Moses. He condemns his fellow Jews
for their unenlightened ways. They had chosen a good end - relationship
with God - but pursued it by the wrong means. He goes on to claim that a
true relationship with God can only be attained through faith in the
lordship of Jesus Christ. Nothing else will suffice for either Jews or
All through his Letter to the Romans, Paul quotes rather freely from the
Greek version of the Jewish scriptures. He is not much concerned, however,
with the context of the passages he quotes. Vv.6-8 refers to Deuteronomy
30:11-14, but he is simply trying to say that salvation Christ is available
to all and cannot be achieved by human effort. In v.1, he quotes from
Isaiah 28:16; and in v.13 from Joel 2:32. His purpose is establish that
Jesus is Lord and to reassure his predominantly Jewish audience that the
sovereignty of Christ is not only effective for Jews and Gentiles alike,
but is prefigured in the Jewish scriptures.
Thus Paul, a scholarly rabbi before his conversion, pleads his case before
fellow Jews by drawing extensively on the sacred literature of his people.
A quick glance at chs.9-11 in the NSRV shows many of the quotations in
poetic style and stand out on the pages. The quotation from Joel in v.13
refers to the Jewish conviction that when the end of the world came, those
who called on the name of the Lord (i.e. YHWH) would find safety in the
kingdom of the Messiah. Paul merely transposed this verse to convince his
now Judaeo-Christian audience as to how safe they were in accepting the
fundamental creed that Jesus is Lord.
Luke 4:1-13 This passage takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’
public ministry. Yet this was not the report of a single incident, but "a
commentary on the entire course of Jesus' ministry. Time and again Jesus
must have been tempted to authenticate his mission by a display of
miraculous power or to undertake the role of a political Messiah." (S.
MacLean Gilmour, "The Interpreter's Bible," vol. 8, p. 83)
Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for
a time of prayer and fasting. The so-called “temptations” came as inner
reflections about his baptismal experience and how to do what he now
perceived his divine mission to be. All three gospels assert that it was
the Spirit and not Satan which motivated him to withdraw for this time of
contemplation. But who but Jesus could have told the disciples and their
successors in the Apostolic Church about his experience and its meaning for
his ministry? Could this have been one of the things he told them after
Jesus - and by implication, the church which still represents him in the
world - could have chosen any of the three tempting ways: to satisfy his
own needs by feeding himself thus immediately; to gain supreme power by
subjecting himself to evil; or to draw attention to himself by a
spectacular performance. He rejected all three. But his struggles with
temptation had not ended. More were yet to come as he chose the way that
led to the cross.
Sadly, the history of the church is filled with instances when the church
has not followed its Lord in rejecting the various options of continuing
Jesus' ministry in the world. This point needs to be made again and again
in every community of faith.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.