First Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Ps. 32; Rom. 5:12-19; Matt. 4:1-11
This week we attended a Greek Orthodox service of baptism and blessing for the son of friends here in Amman. The hour-long service included Scripture readings, prayers, songs, the baptism, communion, candles and incense. We have grown up in a tradition that practices adult baptism — so child baptisms feel unusual. Still, there were many elements that seemed similar to our more familiar experience with child dedications.
Demonstrations continued across the region this week. Some turned ugly. In Libya, pro-Gaddafi forces have mounted attacks against anti-government groups. In Egypt, at least 13 persons where killed in skirmishes between Muslims and Coptic Christians who had gathered to protest the burning of a church building.
In Saudi Arabia, where protests have been banned, police opened fire against crowds calling for the release of nine Shia Muslim prisoners.
The Common Lectionary readings for this first Sunday in Lent tell two temptation stories with very different outcomes.
In the Old Testament reading, God instructs Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). But the serpent tells Eve that there will be benefit, not harm, in doing so (Gen. 3:5). When Eve saw that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise,” she ate the fruit and gave some to Adam as well (v.6).
In the Gospel reading the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1). Jesus fasts for 40 days. When Jesus is famished the devil presents him with three temptations: To turn stones to bread (v.3); to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, trusting God to protect him (vv.5-6); and to fall down and worship the devil in exchange for receiving all the kingdoms of the world (vv.8-9). In each case, Jesus resists by quoting Scripture that exposes the shortcoming of the devil’s temptation:
• “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v.4);
• “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v.7); and
• “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (v.10).
In the Epistle reading Paul reflects on these two stories and the trajectory of disobedience and obedience: “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19)
As we begin this season of Lenten repentance, we are sobered by the many reminders within and around us that sin continues to mar the human family.
Thankfully, sin is not the last word. The psalmist, who labored for a time under the burden of sin, writes: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps. 32:5) We also celebrate that God’s abundant grace, freely given in Jesus Christ, allows us to walk in newness of life (Rom. 5:17).