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Introduction To The Scripture For The First Sunday in Lent - Year C
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8(b)-13; Luke 4:1-13

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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 
Gentiles. 

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 
the resurrection?

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.



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