The First Sunday of Lent – 6 March 2022
Lectionary Readings: Deut 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2.10-15; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13Theme: Temptations in the Wilderness
Today’s gospel passage opens with mention of forty days in the wilderness and of bread, signaling Luke’s intention that we read the story of the three temptations of Jesus in the light of the exodus story. Jesus’ response to each temptation is from, or is based on, the book of Deuteronomy: One does not live by bread alone. (Deut 8:3); Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. (Deut 6:13); Do not put the Lord your God to the test. (Deut 6:16).
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Irish Dominican biblical scholar, relates these quotes to the three injunctions of the Shema, also in Deuteronomy, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). He quotes the rabbis who comment on this in the Mishnah:
“With all your heart”—with both of your inclinations…the good inclination and…the evil inclination.
“And with all your soul”—even if He takes your soul.
“And with all your might”—with all of your money. (b. Berakhot 9:5)
In the first temptation, to turn stones into bread, Jesus is tested as to whether his heart is wholly directed towards God, or is divided. His answer affirms his trust in God with his whole heart, unlike the Israelites in the wilderness with their divided hearts. The rabbinic comment above is triggered by the presence of two b’s in the spelling of the Hebrew word for “heart” (lb) in Deuteronomy 6:5 (lbb). They interpret this as referring to the heart’s inclination towards both good and evil. God does not expect us to be perfect before we relate to him, but to worship with our whole heart, just as we are.
The second temptation in Luke (it is the third in Matthew whose story follows the order of the Shema) attempts to seduce Jesus with the personal wealth and power of all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus rejects this. True worship includes using money and power to build the Kingdom. Luke’s third temptation is to get Jesus to test God’s faithfulness by leaping from the Temple, so courting death. He refuses to do this and remains faithful and trusting, even though it costs him his soul, that is, his life.
Murphy-O’Connor sees the temptation story as “a vivid parable of adherence to the most basic obligations of the believer, the demands of the Shema”. Jesus actually faced all these temptations in different ways throughout his life, being “tempted in every way that we are” (Heb. 4:15). Is Luke saying that if Jesus, truly human, was able to choose to live like this, then we can do the same?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Can you identify in your own experience one of the temptations described above? How did you handle it? 2. Do you think the Shema is relevant for Christians today?
Bibliography: Murphy-O’Connor, J. “Triumph over Temptation”, Biblical Archaeology Review, 15.04, 1999; Neusner, J. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody MA: 2011).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol alumnus 2003, 2004, 2005