In every set of readings lies a treasure map to a broader message we are being called to ponder that week. That’s what this blog is all about – trying to connect those dots so we can train our ears and hearts to hear Him with greater clarity. To ask “How Lord, are you speaking to me this week through these readings?” Some Sundays the dots are easier to see than others. Today the thread of Deuteronomy is throughout.
Today’s fun fact:
St Valentine was a champion of love, yes, but he had a special heart for the sacrament of marriage. In the 3rd century, Claudius, a Roman emperor, severely restricted marriage between young people. He felt it made the husbands poor soldiers, and thus he’d have a weaker army. In addition, polygamy was more acceptable during that time. St. Valentine felt both attitudes were less than ideal, so he encouraged marriage between 1 man and 1 woman in the Christian church. He performed these marriages secretly for many years before he was caught, imprisoned, tortured and killed for his actions. St. Valentine, pray for us!
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10
“Deuteronomy” comes from the Latin “Deutero-nomium” or “Second Law.” Put simply, the book is a commentary on the 10 Commandments – an “instruction manual” on how to live by God’s law. So if Deuteronomy is the second law, what was the first?
Back in Dt chapters 5-8, God gave the stone tablets to Moses atop Mt. Sinai. This is the 1st law. When I read these 4 chapters – I was overwhelmed by their beauty – God so eloquently and lovingly lays out His promises for His chosen nation. Nevertheless, while Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (hang on to that number for today’s gospel), the people became impatient and stiff-necked. Giving in to temptation, they built a golden calf to worship.*sigh* Moses probably felt like I do when I leave my kids in the room and tell them not to bicker while I’m gone. (I’m sure you can guess what they do.) So God’s people disobeyed – they broke the 1st law before they even had time to digest it. It was a very bad idea to worship a statue of a cow instead of God. This is called the golden calf incident. It was so offensive to God that scholars often refer to it as “The Second Fall.”
This broke Moses’s heart. He threw down the first set of stone tablets at the bottom of the mountain and they shattered. God said He would destroy this stubborn people. But Moses wanted to help the people, so he fasted. He laid prostrate before God. For 40 days and nights without food or water. All in an effort to save the Isrealites. This is a priestly action. Moses serves as an intermediary between the people and God. He takes the sin of his people upon himself and offers it to the Lord. Jesus, our High Priest, does the same thing for us on the Cross. Ordained priests all over the world do this every day, fasting and praying for their parishioners – and serving as an intermediary between the people and God both at the altar (preparing the Eucharist) and in the confessional (reconciling us to God).
BACK TO THE READING
Chapters 11-26 of Deut is a commentary on all 10 commandments. In Deut 26, we’re on #10: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods.” In short, Moses tells the people how to focus on gratitude. They are to “properly give the first fruits of the land to the Lord” via a priest. Moses tells them what to say when they tithe, (“You shall declare before the Lord your God…”). They are supposed to tell the story of God saving His people from the Egyptians in the Exodus – “The Story” of the Old Testament.
We too are called to give to the Lord from our first fruits, from the top. This can be in the form of dollars, talents, or time, but it should be the best we have. Two women in the gospels demonstrate this. In Mark, a widow giving her only 2 coins to Jesus (literally, her whole life). In John, Mary gives the equivalent of one year’s salary (in the form of precious nard or oil) to bless Christ’s head before Calvary. These women have put this reading into action in a really big way.
Response Psalm 91: “Be With Me Lord, When I am in Trouble”
The author of this psalm is unknown. Quite clearly, it is a call to the Lord for assistance. In times of trouble, we are to call to Him, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” There are words of comfort as well: “No evil shall befall you, nor affliction come near your tent, for to his angels he has given command about you.” Psalm 91 includes the popular line from “On Eagle’s Wings” which is quoted later today by Jesus in the gospel, “Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
2nd Reading: Romans 10: 8-13
Rome, of course, was the imperial capital of the Roman Empire and the most populated city in the Mediterranean world. Paul wrote to the people of Rome around 57 AD, mainly to introduce himself in anticipation of his planned visit. He normally visited a city and wrote his apostolic letters after setting up the Church in that city (to correct them, to unify them, answer questions, etc.), but not the case in Rome. He wrote a letter before his first visit there, hoping to enlist their support in carrying out his apostolic mission. He also wanted to ease tensions that were straining the Church. (Unity is a common goal for all of Paul’s letters.)
In today’s reading, Paul’s topic is the “Restoration of Israel.” From my study bible introduction to the book of Romans: “Though many in Israel have rejected the gospel, in this letter Paul insists God has not abandoned his covenant people but is planning to save ‘all Israel’ in Christ. This is consistent with the patterns of how God dealt with Israel in the scriptures.” Does that last part sound familiar? People reject God’s law…God’s chosen tries to restore them (here, that’s Moses in Reading 1 and Paul in Reading 2). Moses tried to restore the people after the golden calf incident, even though they had rejected God’s law. Paul is doing the same thing – trying to restore the people of Rome, to bring them back to God through His Church. As noted previously, Paul is a master at getting through to his audience. What does he do? He quotes Deuteronomy: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – a direct quote from Dt 30:14, just a few chapters after the 1st reading.
GOSPEL – Luke 4:1-13
Today, we’re with Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. This happens right after the baptism of the Lord (“Jesus returned from the Jordan”). What does our baptism do? It pledges us to Christ. What happens as soon as we belong to Christ? Satan wants to mess with us. So in this reading, Jesus goes to battle for us in the desert before he goes to battle for us against Satan a final time – and is victorious – when He rises from the dead. So this is like Jesus’s “warm up” battle. But it has a purpose, too. He has some fulfilling of the Old Testament to do before He saves the world from sin. Biblically, “40” signifies waiting, testing, and purification… During the Flood, it rained 40 days and nights. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights and then interceded for Israel for 40 days and nights. Israel’s spies looked on Canaan for 40 days, and of course Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.
Jesus goes out to the wilderness for 40 days – the wilderness was a scary, dark, barren place. While he’s there, satan tempts him. But because He’s God, He flips the situation on its head. The Israelites struggled so badly in the face of temptation throughout the entire Old Testament. They were punished for that – usually with “a 40” (see paragraph above). In the desert we see Jesus – who is 100% human and 100% divine – go through some very human temptations. Importantly, these are the same temptations Israel struggled with in their Old Testament wildernesses: hunger, thirst, power, protection, comfort.
But here’s where it gets cool.
Instead of watching another episode of God’s law be rejected (yet again), Jesus puts it all to an end. He is The Answer. Previously, the Israelites showed unfaithfulness every time they were tempted. Here, Jesus shows us how to reject temptation and be faithful. He has the strength the Israelites did not have. He has the strength we often don’t. Jesus, in this one event of temptation in the desert, fulfills – answers – all the previous temptations in the Old Testament in one fell swoop.
But how does He do it? What does Jesus do when he’s tempted by the devil? If you said, “Well he quotes Deuteronomy, of course!” Then you’d be right.
Deut 8:3 “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Deut 6:13 “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Deut 6:16 “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Matthew 5:17
Come back next week to explore the link between the covenant with Abraham and the Transfiguration. May God bless your week!