Saturday, February 13, 2010

First Sunday in Lent Year C

First Sunday in Lent C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2,916; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

After a casuistic review of the law, the writer/editor/compiler of Deuteronomy institutes/describes a liturgical rite for an individual to renew personally her commitment to the Lord's covenant with Israel.  At a harvest time, the faithful are to bring "some of the first of all the fruits of the ground" in a basket to a priest "in office at that time" and make this confession of faith: My ancestors were wandering, homeless Arameans who went into Egypt as alien immigrants and were eventually enslaved but were delivered out of slavery by the Lord in "a terrifying display of power, and signs and wonders,"  bringing us into a "land flowing with milk and honey."  She continues: "So now I bring the first fruits of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me."  After this confession of faith, a celebration follows.

The psalmist opens with a confession of faith: The Lord is my refuge in whom I trust.  Today's appointed verses (9-16) continue in the two other voices.   One addresses the person who has made that confession of faith (vv 10-13), saying:  No harm will befall you, the Lord's messenger will guard you.  Now (vv 14-16)  the Lord speaks, confirming that when the person of faith called, the Lord heard and granted "honor" and "rescued him."

Paul provides the most basic confession of faith: "Jesus is Lord... [and] that God raised him from the dead...."  If one believes this in his heart and confesses with his mouth, he will be saved.  There is no human-made barrier; anyone can make this confession.

After the baptism of Jesus by John when a Voice from heaven  declared him to be "My beloved Son," Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus, back to Adam, "the son of God."  Having elaborated on the identity of Jesus, Luke expands on Matthew and Mark and says that Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit" when he was led into the wilderness for forty days of testing and temptation by the devil.  After fasting the whole forty days, Jesus is tempted by the devil to turn stones on the ground into bread.  Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy (8:3b) that human beings  do not live by bread alone.  Next the devil takes Jesus to a mountaintop from which the devil shows "in an instant all the kingdoms of the world."  The devil offers a deal:  he will give all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him.  Again Jesus quotes scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13): Only "worship the Lord your God...."  Now the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and dares Jesus to throw himself to the ground.  "If you are the son of God, (the devil quotes scripture! Psalm 91:11-12), "throw yourself down from here...." For God's angels will protect you, as it is written.   Jesus responds with a saying" do not test the Lord.  For now, the devil gives up and departs, "until an opportune time."

Carl Jung advised that one ought to have a healthy awareness of his or her own capacity for evil.  That we hurt one another-- whether unintentionally or intentionally or even aware or not-- is inevitable and, actually, inescapable.  (Of course, there are also those horrendous times of premeditated  harm when we know exactly whom we have hurt and how and we can even come to regret for the rest of our lives.)

Biblical narratives take human evil as a given, (which makes ensuing  claims of God's love and forgiveness even more astounding).  The writer of Deuteronomy recognizes or describes the human need for an individual to establish in his or her personal calendar occasions  to renew personally her allegiance to the sweeping story of God's creation, protection and salvation of a people whose memory enshrines God's actions and whose relationship with God becomes the conduit of God's love to the whole world.  The psalmist presents a three-way conversation between a person who confesses her faith, another who acknowledges her confession and the Lord who confirms the validity of her trust.  Paul provides the most basic confession of the faith of the church and then goes out of his way to write explicitly that no person is ineligible to join in making this confession.  Although the conversation between Jesus and the devil described by Luke is surreal, the point is clear:  Even Jesus, in the flesh, knew temptation and testing.

In his full-frontal confrontation with Western habits of thought, Martin Heidegger in his great work, Being and Time,  painstakingly took apart some of the most established assumptions, including the belief, which he traces back to Plato, that human beings could ever disengage from the world and our complex relations with it.  He pursued the implication that this belief could/does delude us into underestimating or even disowning our inescapable capacity for harm.  Becuase we are finite, there is always a gap between what we want/ought/can do for others and what we actually accomplish.  It is not just that we fail occasionally.  Going about our routine, daily lives each person impinges on others.  Heidegger calls this inescapable circumstance, "primordial  Being-guilty." (pp 331/285- 332/286)  Even with his neologism-laden writing, his follow-up conclusion to this realization is powerful.  Acceptance of this situation for ourselves personally can lead to a "resoluteness" that pushes us "into solicitous Being with Others;" making us a "concernful being." (344/298).  Alternative strategies-- such as trying to achieve a clear conscience or remaining intentionally oblivious -- can only be checked by certain  moves.  First, we must articulate-- say out loud, write down, "confess"-- some specific concrete action that will address this indebtedness. Then, we have begun to lead what he calls an "owned life" not in some general sense but as a "factical ideal." (358/310)  These steps, in turn, make us innately attuned to the "call" of others.

Lent can be the church's annual season to encourage serious self-examination that leads us to identify particular, bold actions to ameliorate our unavoidable debts to others. Which, then, can lead to a life shaped by  "solicitous Being with Others." For believers, our personal journey along this path is undertaken within the grand story of God's solicitous love and forgiveness, which precedes, overwhelms and follows after whatever attempts we make.  The story begins with our homeless ancestors, continues with some "terrifying displays of power and signs and wonders" and, for Christians, reaches the dramatic announcement of an empty tomb and the incorporation and empowerment of Christ-followers through the Holy Spirit to participate in the doing of their own "signs and wonders."  This approach to Lent does not focus on vague introspection or even staying stuck in self-recrimination so much as learning the story by doing it!