Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): “Obedience forms the core of Jesus' being" (Monsignor Romano Guardini). Through the temptations in the desert, Jesus is brought to a life-or-death awareness of the absolute primacy of His union with His Father. He undergoes those temptations so that we can embrace His own conviction. Our temptations are moments of grace moving us to call on the name of the Lord in our powerlessness and weakness, longing to be saved. The Lord enriches all who call upon Him by drawing them to share His union of love with His Father. We enter into the season of Lent with the unflinching certainty that the Lord will see all our affliction, our toil and our oppression and hear our cry.
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Deuteronomy.
Moses spoke to the people, saying, “The priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. And you shall make response before the LORD your God, `A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the LORD the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This first weekend Scripture reading for Lent might seem like a true head-scratcher. Sure, Christians know – or should know – the story of Israel's bondage in Egypt and God's mighty deeds in the Exodus to the Promised Land. But what does one of the hundreds of Torah passages prescribing rituals for the ancient Israelites have to do with Lent or the Christian “high holy days” – Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost – that lie ahead of us?
It's the last of those feasts that is most significant here. For Moses' directive to the Israelites poised to cross the Jordan and conquer Canaan refers directly to Pentecost, the “Feast of Weeks” that the Jewish people call Shauvot. It was one of three festivals – the others being Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) – that all men in ancient Israel were required to observe at the site of God's divine sanctuary, which in Jesus' time meant the Jerusalem Temple. During Shauvot, celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Passover, Jews were to offer God the firstfruits of their grain harvest. (Tabernacles, which came in the fall, required firstfruit offerings from the fruit harvest.)
Earlier in this chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses commanded Israel to begin offering the firstfruits after they were settled in the Promised Land. It's in that light that one should read the recitation above. The first Jewish Pentecost was meant as the culmination of a story that began with the migration to Egypt of the house of Jacob (who had spent time in “Aram” – greater Syria – working for Abraham's great-nephew Laban, father of Jacob's wives Leah and Rachel). It was a story of bondage, liberation and exodus to a new and fruitful land. Our story as Christians is such a story as well. We were in the bondage of sin until “Christ, our Passover,” was sacrificed for us. By the mighty power of God, we journey on a “new exodus” from the world and its sinful ways to the Promised Land of heaven. With the beginning of Lent, we who believe in Christ have begun our own annual journey of recollection and rededication. We recall our bondage over 40 days of Lent (compare with the 400 years of Israel's slavery) and our journey from the Red Sea (the third reading of the Easter Vigil) over the 40 days of Easter (compare with the 40 years of the Exodus). Then, once settled, we come before our Lord at Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, which sums up everything He has done for us.
As Israel was called upon to renew the Old Covenant of Moses, let us take advantage of every opportunity God gives us to renew His “new and everlasting covenant” with us – not only throughout the weeks of Lent and Easter but also every time we come before His altar, eat of His Body and drink His Precious Blood in remembrance of our Lord and Savior.
Second Reading: Romans 10:8-13
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans.
Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The Scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Another passage from Deuteronomy (30:14) supplies the first Old Testament quote that Paul borrows here. Moses originally spoke it as a challenge to Israel. God's commandments, he told them, were not beyond their ability to obey; they were not some esoteric philosophy expressed by someone from a foreign land whose origin thus provided an excuse not to listen. No, Moses said: “The word is near you.” Now Paul fills in the rest of the context: It is not merely a spoken human word but the very Word of God who was near Israel then. And Jesus, the “Word made flesh,” is near us today!
Moses declared earlier in Deuteronomy 30: “Return to the Lord, your God.” So Paul also urges us to do. Our key to the saving faith, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, has been the same since the beginning of the Church: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” We cannot do these things without the Holy Spirit living in us – but when we do them, God will lead us across the Jordan to the Promised Land of heaven. Take us there, Lord!
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
A reading from the holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone.'" And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,' and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" And Jesus answered him, "It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: The spiritual undertone of Deuteronomy in this weekend's readings climaxes in Luke's account of Christ's temptation in the desert. The same three temptations are recorded in both Matthew and Luke, though the order of the last two is reversed. Each time, Jesus draws on Moses' presentation of the “second Law” (in order, from Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13 and 6:16) for His retorts to Satan's efforts to corrupt Him through man's weaknesses for sensuality, power and presumption. Even the devil's attempt to quote Scripture against Jesus (specifically, Psalm 91:11-12) comes to naught.
We celebrate 40 days of Lent in large part because Christ here gives us the example through His own 40 days in the desert. The Church strongly encourages us to sacrifice things important, even vital, to us as a way to enter into Jesus' experience. When we fast (at least on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, if not for the entire 40 days of Lent), do we not feel the drive to satisfy our stomachs? When we humble ourselves with acts of penance, do we not feel pangs of regret that we are not the ones being glorified? When we “give alms” and devote ourselves to serving the needs of the poor, do we not feel the tug to demand that God serve us instead as He promises to serve His Son in the psalm Satan chooses to lead that Son astray?
Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, did feel all these drives, pangs and tugs. He had to become human to show us that we can defeat our temptations, though again we cannot hope to do so without being “full of the Holy Spirit” as He was and is. By choosing to endure His physical hunger, to decline earthly power and to serve rather than be served, Christ shows us that God will stop at nothing to bring us, His own creatures, back to Himself. He gave up everything that He Himself fully deserves and can rightly demand in order to become one of us, to humbly model His ways of undeserved, unrestricted love, to ascend the cross to pay the price we cannot and would not pay for our sins – and to rise again and defeat death once and for all.
Do not view Lent as an unfair demand to “give up something” or as a laundry list of prescriptions that must be followed to the letter in order to be saved. Let us view Lent as a chance to rejoice in the opportunity to serve and to sacrifice – for by doing so before us and even in place of us, Jesus has made our prayer, penance and almsgiving meaningful.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be