The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness, Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)

God's Word on Sunday: It’s a good time to count God’s blessings

  • March 9, 2019

First Sunday of Lent, March 10 (Year C) Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

What does the creed mean to us? For many, it contains abstract theological doctrines — they are true enough, but do not engage people on the experiential and emotional level. 

For the ancient Israelites, this passage from Deuteronomy was the closest they came to a creed. It recites not abstractions about God, but the concrete deeds that God did on behalf of the chosen people. Their whole history was compressed in this recitation: the call, slavery in Egypt, freedom from bondage and the gift of the Promised Land. 

The ancient way of honouring God was to recite God’s mighty deeds with gratitude. They did so in expectation and faith that just as God had been there for them in the past, so God would continue to do great things on their behalf. 

People tend to have short memories when it comes to gratitude — the shelf life of an act of kindness is not long. During the journey through the wilderness, the people of God seemed to be afflicted with this short-term memory loss. God repeatedly saved them from danger and lack, providing food, water and protection. But the bitter complaints and demands to go back to Egypt were not far behind. 

They were very much like all people — heavy on resentment and self-pity, and light on gratitude. It might be helpful if church communities would recite the great deeds of God each Sunday, pausing to praise God and give thanks. This is our collective story, just as the Israelites had theirs. It is what unites and identifies us as a people. 

But each one of us has a story, too. What is our personal “creed” — for what sort of blessings could we and should we thank God? One of the reasons God seems to be absent from the world is that we don’t see the divine presence in front of us and all around us. 

It is too easy to ascribe the good things that happen to us as “the way things are” or to natural causes. Although the Israelites were led from Egypt with exceptional and terrifying displays of power, God is most often cloaked in the ordinary. But the ordinary is exciting and delightful enough when we know how to look.

For Paul the death and resurrection of Jesus was the greatest deed ever accomplished by God on our behalf. When we believe this in our hearts and proclaim it with our lips, then we claim it as our own and our minds and hearts are transformed. This lifeline that God has placed before us is for anyone willing to reach out and grasp it. There are no preconditions and no one is excluded. Have we made this story our own?

Jesus had been baptized and was filled with the Holy Spirit, but since He shared our humanity, He still needed to be tested in the desert. We do not really know who we are or what we are made of until we face opposition and temptation. 

Jesus probably remembered the mighty and gracious deeds of God from the past and drew strength from them. This memory helped Him to meet the devil’s challenge head on and never waver. 

The three temptations had some things in common. First, they played on human fear — you are not enough, you do not have enough and God will not help you. Second, they tried to entice Jesus to take shortcuts. People are always looking for shortcuts and the easy path, but in the journey to God there are none. Finally, each temptation began with “if you are the Son of God,” trying to lure Jesus into relying on His status and His power rather than faith and perseverance.

Jesus was challenged by the devil to make things happen on His own rather than wait on and trust in God. 

These were the challenges faced by the Israelites during the Exodus and journey through the wilderness, and they failed miserably. They surrendered to fear repeatedly and it was their downfall. Jesus knew that God was absolutely sovereign and could be relied on without reservation. 

Each day we are challenged by situations tinged with fear, lack of trust and the allure of the shortcut. Before we react or respond, perhaps we can call to mind God’s blessings in our lives and give thanks.

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