February 17, 2010

First Sunday of Lent

By Brian Pizzalato *

First Reading – Dt. 26:4-10
Responsorial Psalm – Ps. 91:1-2, 10-14
Second Reading – Rom. 10:8-13
Gospel Reading – Lk. 4:1-13

Jesus is tempted

Luke’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent presents Jesus being tempted in the desert.

We first hear that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.” (Lk 4:1-2) This occurs right after Jesus has received the Spirit in his Baptism. But, why would the Holy Spirit want him to go into the wilderness?

First, Jesus has just associated himself with sinners by undergoing the baptism of repentance. As the new Adam who has come to undo what the old Adam did, he is driven into the wilderness; much like Adam was driven out of Eden. Jesus, like Adam, will be tempted by the devil. The difference arises in the fact that Jesus is obedient whereas Adam was not.

Second, Jesus has come to defeat, not Rome, but sin, death and the devil. St. John tells us: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 Jn 3:8) Therefore, he goes into the wilderness to do battle. However, this temptation does not take place until he has first prepared himself through 40 days of fasting. (cf. Lk 4:2)

The Gospel of Mark makes clear Jesus’ mission by reminding readers that in the wilderness "he was with wild beasts.” (Mk 1:13) In Scripture, the wilderness is frequently associated with evil powers which are portrayed as beasts. Isaiah, for example, refers to the wilderness as "the haunt of jackals.” (Is. 35:7)

On the other hand Scripture also portrays the wilderness as a place of special intimacy with God. Jeremiah says, "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness…" (2:2)

Jesus and Israel in the wilderness

One of the main themes in the Gospels is an emphasis on the new and greater exodus which was prophesied by Isaiah. (cf. 40-55)

In the Gospels, Jesus is depicted as reliving the life of Israel during their exodus and years of wandering in the wilderness. Just as Israel passed through the Red Sea and then journeyed into the wilderness for 40 years, so too Jesus passes through the Jordan and into the wilderness for 40 days.

This event emphasizes the stark contrast between Israel’s disobedience during their 40 years of exile and Jesus’ obedience during his 40 days of fasting. There are many parallels between the two events. For example:

1. Both Israel and Jesus are called God’s son. (Ex 4:22; Lk 4:22)

2. The temptations of both are preceded by a baptism. (Ex 14; 1 Cor 10:1-5; Lk 4:1-13)

3. Israel was tested 40 years; Jesus was tested 40 days.

4. The Spirit of God was seen to be particularly active during the Exodus and their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, so too is the Spirit active with Jesus during his 40 days. (Ex 40:34-38; Is 63:10-14; Lk 4:1)

5. The three temptations that Jesus endures parallel the experience of Israel in the wilderness. This is especially so given the context of the quotes Jesus gives from Scripture which all come from Deuteronomy 6-8 (8:3; 6:16; 6:13). In these passages Moses tells the children of those who have come up out of the Egypt and are about to enter the Promised Land why their parents failed. He is speaking to them at the end of the 40 years of wandering.

a. Jesus’ first temptation has to do with hunger and provision. On several occasions during their exile, the Israelites complain about food and water. (Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:2)

b. Jesus’ second temptation has to do with putting God to the test. For example in Exodus 17:2, when the people are murmuring about water, Moses says, "Why do you put the Lord to the test?"

c. Jesus’ third temptation has to do with worshipping false gods. The Israelites were extremely prone to this. For example, no sooner had they come up out of Egypt, they tried to worship the golden calf at Mount Sinai. (Ex 32) Forty years later, just as they are about to enter the Promised Land, they attempt to worship Baal of Peor. (Nm 25)

Like Adam, like Israel, and like Jesus, we too enter into the wilderness during Lent. We must do battle with temptation and the devil. How? As Jesus says when he comes out of the desert, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." (Mk 1:15) However, like John the Baptist told the Pharisees, we must "bear fruit that befits repentance." (Lk 3:8)

What are the fruits of repentance? In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks about deeds of piety, or righteousness during the Sermon on the Mount. These deeds are almsgiving, prayer and fasting. And that is exactly what the Church calls us to during this Lenten season. We must beware of being like the Pharisees who only did such so that others would see them and think them holy. Each of our actions, our deeds, must be accompanied by the interior disposition of repentance.

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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