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1st Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2007
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
The theme introduced in the Ash Wednesday commentary, ensuring that all eat, and drink and take pleasure in their toil, is reinforced by the Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy.
Scholars have identified this as the oldest “creed” and ritual of ancient Israel. The offering presented to the priest is not for some “invisible” deity, it is to be shared with the Levites and with that “incarnate” trinity of old, the immigrants, (Ger) the orphans and the widows so that in every community they will have all they need to eat. Since this is the end of Black History Month concerned pastors will use illustrations that connect this text to the struggles for equality for all among African Americans in particular.
The need for food for all is intensified in the text of the temptations in Luke through the challenge of Satan to Jesus to turn the stones into bread. It is not just Jesus’ hunger that is at the center of the story; rather, it is a means/ends issue. Stones play a part in the ancient ritual of baking bread. Stones are used to grind the grain which then is watered, kneaded and baked to produce the sustenance all need. But that sustenance, apart from the relations which bread produce is empty. Jesus’ response to Satan is that “bread alone” will not do. Unlike Matthew, Luke leaves out any reference to God’s word, but the implication is there. Bread is a symbol of human relations; I believe our ancestors in the tradition are wrong in identifying the need for bread with the “lust of the flesh.” The traditional understanding of the three temptations has been summarized as “lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and pride of life.” Hunger is a dominant force in human existence because of the tendency of a few people to hoard regardless of the impact that has on the masses. Jesus is tempted by Satan to satisfy his own hunger independent of the conditions impinging on all humanity. Satan wants to separate Jesus from his humanity, but he did not succeed
Having failed in the first temptation Satan now asks Jesus to join those who deprive others of the very bread that was part of the first temptation. Here Luke takes a different path from Matthew, the second temptation is to join the forces of hoarding and domination, the power and wealth found in “all the kingdoms of the world.” As we preach in the midst of the American Empire we need to help our congregations focus on the contrast between the power and wealth inherent in the Empire and the alternative that Jesus presents, “worship the Lord and serve only Him!” That answer is the doorway to the basilea Theou, the “commonwealth of God,” or as our sisters in the faith have taught us; the kin-dom of God. It is important to lift up the images of Christ and the Commonwealth of God that have come to us as contributions of Black women theologians as we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month. Womanist theologians need to inform this sermon preparation and delivery.
The final temptation in this passage is that of taking another shortcut, “OK, Jesus, have it your way, but in order to do it, use the spectacular, the outstanding, the electrifying.” This path is also one in which relations are shortchanged and hierarchies are reinstated. Jesus rejects this path also, choosing instead the patient, slow-moving way of entering into the hearts of women and men.
The daily bread, the daily grind is what is needed as we move forward toward the creation of the world Christ envisioned. Christ’s temptations continue to be our temptations. What happens in the dessert is simply a re-enactment of what happened in the Garden of Eden. What Adam and Eve could not do, resist the call of the enemy to adjudicate to themselves privileges that would set them apart and above others, is accomplished by the Christ and since then, all Christians, have the possibility of approximating the victories of Christ through faithfulness to Christ.
That is what Paul is saying to the Christians in Rome in the text from the Epistle. As John Cobb and David Lull point out in their commentary on Romans faithfulness to God through the faithfulness of Jesus to God is what opens possibilities for us to become truly conformed to God’s will. The victory of Christ over the temptations dramatically shows how faithful to God he was, and how we can become faithful.
Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister, is currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California, and also serves as the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Rev. Castuera has served churches in Mexico, Hawaii, and California. In 1980, he became the first Latino District Superintendent of the Los Angeles District of the California Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.