Holy Spirit

 ACTA 

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

 

First Sunday of Lent Year C

Year of Luke

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READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy                26:4-10

 

Responsorial Psalm                 Psalm 91:1-2. 10-15.  R/. v.15

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans    10:8-13

      

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke     4:1-13

 

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Lent, so we are told, is a time for repentance.  There is much emphasis on confessing our sins.  Giving things up for Lent is still recommended as a reparation for our sins.  Opportunities for going to Confession are multiplied.  Special Penitential Services may be on offer.  But has all this much to do with what Jesus meant when he demanded that people repent? He insisted that repentance was the first and necessary response to the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived in their midst.  To understand why we must ask one question:

What was the message of Jesus?

 

  Notice I have not asked “What is the Message of Jesus?” For we live two thousand years after the death of Jesus and in the light of Christian reflection over that long time. My hardback edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has 691 pages.  A recently published edition of St Mark’s Gospel in English, on my desk as I write, has 22 pages.  I do not mean that what has developed into Christianity is untrue to the message of Jesus.  However I think that it is important to be aware of the circumstances in which Jesus said or did what we find in the Gospels.    

   The Message of Jesus

 

Saint Mark’s was the first Gospel to be written.  The very first words that Jesus speaks in Mark’s Gospel are a perfect summary of all that he speaks in that Gospel, and, indeed, in all the Gospels.  This is how Mark reports those first words of the man from Nazareth:

 

        Now after John [the Baptist] had been delivered up,   Jesus       came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God and saying,

                The time is fulfilled and the kingdom                                     of God is at hand. Repent and believe                                     in the gospel.                                   Mark 1:14-15

That is the earliest and most precise record of what Jesus taught. What Mark calls “the gospel of God” is gathered together by Jesus into two short sentences.

   To begin with, Mark calls the preaching of Jesus “the gospel of God”.  What Jesus says, God says.  What Jesus preaches, God underwrites.  The message of Jesus is the message of God.  It is what God wants the world to know, to accept and to believe. In ancient Greek literature and throughout the Old Testament the word “gospel” often means the good news of a victory in battle. In proclaiming “the gospel of God” Jesus is announcing God’s victory.  That victory was (and is) broadcast in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  What “the gospel of God”, the good news coming from God, declares is that God is on our side.       

 The phrase “the time is fulfilled” means ”the decisive moment has arrived”.  The time of preparation has ceased.  What God has been doing since the creation of time, since the call of Abraham, since Moses led the slaves out of Egypt, since David wrote his songs and his son built the Temple, since the prophets preached against the world’s injustices and looked to a better day—all of that has come to where God intended it to be.  The man Jesus whom Mark calls Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1) has come into Galilee to announce that the time of preparation is ended; the time of fulfilment has arrived.  A new time has arrived, the time of the kingdom of God. 

   To understand what “the kingdom of God” is we need to look at the way it is proclaimed by Jesus.  The “gospel of God” is “the kingdom of God” and how Jesus first proclaims is a key to unravelling its meaning:

              Fact:    The kingdom of God is at hand.

      Response:    Repent and believe.

The kingdom of God is a fact.  There is no doubt, no argument, no “is it” or “isn’t I” about it.  We are not the kingdom.  The Church is not the kingdom.  The kingdom is exclusively “the kingdom of God”.  To understand what “the kingdom of God” is we need to explore all that Jesus says throughout the Gospel, and especially to pay close attention to his parables.  But for now, if we turn to our most profound prayer, the Our Father, we will come to the heart of the matter:

                       

                        Thy kingdom come!

                        Thy will be done on earth

                                as it is in heaven.

The kingdom of God is where God’s will is being done.  It is not a place; nor is it a time.  It is a process that has been working its way through history since time began.  It is the will of God making the world in the image and likeness of God.  All that we read in our Bible is about God insisting that when and where God rules, everything is indeed “all right with the world”.  The phrase “kingdom of God” is best understood as “the reign of God”, the time when God is asserting that his will is being done on earth.  To take just one sentence from St Luke:

        … if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the   kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 11:20

 In the person of Jesus we see God’s will being done on earth.  We read much in the Scriptures about justice and peace.  In Jesus we see how to live justice and peace.  Jesus is the kingdom come.  God gives us his Son to show the extent of steadfast love.  Jesus is God’s last word to the world, that is, in Jesus we see the fullness of God’s concern for humanity.  In the words of St John’s Gospel, Jesus is the one who declares to the world that “My Father” is “Our Father” (John 20:17).  We see the reign of God, the will of God, in the person of Jesus.

   Listen to the opening sentences of that glorious Letter to Hebrew Christians:

        Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to   our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has    spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all   things, through whom also he created the world.       He         [Jesus]     is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his    nature, and he upholds the universe       by the word of his power.

Letter to Hebrew (Jewish) Christians 1:1-3

In his Son, if I may put it this way, God has fleshed out how the will of God must be done and must be done as perfectly “on earth as it is in heaven”.  “As it is in heaven” means “as God above wishes everything and everyone to be”.

   Repent and Believe

   Having declared the fact that the kingdom has come, what response did Jesus demand?  How did he urge those who heard him on that first day to respond to his proclamation of “the gospel of God”?   His demand was brief:

Repent and believe in the gospel.

The structure of this announcement is very revealing.  Jesus states a fact (The kingdom of God is at hand) and makes two demands (Repent! Believe!)  We know many sentences like this:

              Fact:   The ship is sinking!

      Response:   Man the lifeboats!

              Fact:    Tea is ready!

      Response:    Come and get it!

              Fact:   There’s a thief about!

      Response:   Watch out!

A fact is announced and there is an appropriate way to respond.  To fail to acknowledge the fact and fail to respond appropriately is to walk away from Jesus.  If you ignore the fact and fail to respond appropriately, in the first case you will be drowned, in the second you will miss your tea, and in the third your house gets broken into.  Not heeding the fact leads to unpleasant consequences. So, if I was there and heard the fact that the kingdom of God was coming, and the commands to repent and believe, what would I have to do?  What is the appropriate response I must make in order that the words of Jesus become the gospel of God for me?

   Repent

 

This is where, standing before Jesus, I would have had need seriously to revise my ideas.  What demands was Jesus making on all who heard his words?[1] 

   The Greek verb in Mark’s Gospel translated as “repent” is metanoéo.  It means “to change one’s mind”, “to revise one’s opinion”, “to come to another conclusion”. What Jesus demanded of those who heard him was a complete turn-around.  He demanded that, since a new time had arrived, a new way of perceiving God was demanded.  They were commanded to leave their old understanding and to grasp the new.  Jesus demanded a radical transformation of their deepest religious convictions.  The “gospel of God”, the “good news” was standing in front of them.  A new time, a new day, has dawned. All the expectations expressed in their holy Scriptures are no longer expectations.  They have been fulfilled. They were looking at the fulfilment: Jesus of Nazareth, the man from the village up the hill.  Beyond any question, their understanding of God, and my understanding of God, had to be radically revised. 

   Repentance can, of course, mean regret and sorrow for one’s sins.  But Jesus was not concerned with sin in his first words to the people gathered around him.  He was demanding much more.  He was demanding a radical reappraisal of the religious convictions of the people who stood before him.  He was demanding that the time of the prophets had come.  In him a new day had dawned and what he quoted from Isaiah when he read in the synagogue in Nazareth was coming to pass in his actions.  Healing the sick, casting out demons, siding with the poor, castigating the uncaring rich, teaching a new vision of God - doing all that the prophets promised - indicate that God is claiming back his world.  What Jesus was demanding of the people was that they stop depending on their conventional faith, hoping something would turn up some day.   The new time was upon them and the words of Isaiah were fulfilled even as he spoke to them:

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news [“gospel”],

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;

together they sing for joy;

 for eye to eye they see

the return of the Lord to Zion.

 Break forth together into singing,

 you waste places of Jerusalem,

for the Lord has comforted his people;

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

 The Lord has bared his holy arm

before the eyes of all the nations,

 and all the ends of the earth shall see

the salvation of our God.

                                                                Isaiah 52:7-10

Read again the words quoted by Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth.  They are, as Jesus said, being realised before their very eyes:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour,

 and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

 to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

 the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

 that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

                                                                        Isaiah 61:1-3

These Galilean peasants, standing listening to Jesus, the cast-out from Nazareth, were commanded to believe. This is what he was proclaiming and demanding.  This, they were ordered to believe, is what happens when God comes into the human story.  To repent is to move over and let God in. 

  So if Lent is a time of repentance, this is what God, what Jesus, demands for us.  You can’t put old ways into new days.  Jesus spells out what repentance means and it is a hard saying:

        He also told them a parable:

 

        No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old        garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the         new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old    wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it       will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine     must be put into fresh wineskins.

Luke 5:36-38

 Lent is a time of discernment.  It is a time to weigh up the old.  It is a time to embrace the new.  Above all, it is a time to listen to the pain of the world and to ask whether we, as a Church, are bearing the burden of the world’s pain. It is a time to ask whether we are a burden to the world or a whether we carry the world’s crosses beyond Calvary to some kind of resurrection.  Is the old wine fit for purpose?  Metanoia is tough.

   It is important to notice that the imperatives, the commands of Jesus were given in the plural.  Jesus was saying “You—all of you, must together repent and believe”.  Lent is a time for Pope, bishops, priest, and people to reflect together on how they are serving the kingdom of God.  They must ask how effective is their common ministry in bringing about the gospel of God’s love to every broken heart. Is metanoia being done so that change may be affected where only change will serve?  Are sack cloth and ashes being worn where “the gospel of God” is not being realised in our time and in our place?

   Pope Francis, speaking in Florence in 2015, said that faith is “alive, knowing being unsettled, enlivened.  It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ”.

[Just a note for future reference:

We will see that many of the parables in the Gospels follow the same structure: fact and response. But for now, consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Might it be summarised like this? —

                        Fact:  That man has been beaten up!

                Response:  Go and help him!]

 

 

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy                26:4-10

 

        [Moses said to the people]: “The priest shall take the basket        from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord   your God.  And you shall make response before the Lord your         God,

 

        ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went   down       into Egypt and sojourned there,  few in number,     and there he    became a nation, great, mighty, and    populous. And the         Egyptians treated us harshly and         humiliated us and laid on        us hard labour. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of         our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our    affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord       brought    us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,         with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he     brought us into this place and gave us this    land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the       fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me. ’

 

        And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all       the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your         house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.”

The word of the Lord.

The context is essential if we are to understand this or, indeed, any reading from the Bible. Deuteronomy was written hundreds of years after the slaves were led out of Egypt.  The writer imagines Moses speaking to the people before they cross the Jordan River and enter into “the land the Lord swore to our fathers to give to us” (26:3). Moses urges them to give thanks.   They must offer of the first fruits of their first harvest, not only to thank God for the land flowing with milk and honey, but especially for the Presence of God who has journeyed with them and settled down with them.  In making the offering, the people must recite their Creed.  For that is what the first reading today is.  It is a recitation of what God has done for this wandering people.  It is a creed of remembrance.  It is a passage that is read every year at the celebration of Passover.

   Their story begins with Father Abraham, called to be a pilgrim and to go where God directed (Genesis 12:1-4).  At the heart of their creed is God.  The Lord is mentioned eight times in this brief recital that creates a portrait of the Lord God:

      We called on the Lord

                                  The Lord heard our voice

                                  The Lord saw our misery

                                  The Lord brought us out

                                  The Lord brought us here

                                  The Lord gave us this land.

If we recite our Creed, as we do when we have listened to God’s holy words, and note what God has done for all peoples, we will discover an equally impressive portrait of the God we believe in, the

                        Creator of heaven and earth

And so on to the one who is

                        the life of the world to come.

What the Jewish Creed and our Creeds do is to establish the identity of our God and what our God has done and does.  Not only that.  Our Creeds are our identity markers for “we call on the Lord” and are thus identified as a people who believe, who hope, and who pray.  And do all for the glory of God.

Responsorial Psalm                 Psalm 91:1-2. 10-15.  R/. v.15

R/.   Be with me, O Lord, in my distress.

 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord,

“My refuge and my fortress,

                         my God, in whom I trust”.                  R/.

 

No evil shall be allowed to befall you,

 no plague come near your tent.

 For he will command his angels concerning you

                     to guard you in all your ways.               R/.

 

 On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

 You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent

                       you will trample underfoot.                 R/.

 

 “Because he holds fast to me in love,

I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

 When he calls to me,

 I will answer him:  ‘I will be with you’.

I will rescue him and honour him.

 

R/.   Be with me, O Lord, in my distress.

Take heart and rejoice in the words of this psalm that rejoices in what God is and God does:

                               

                                        Shelter

                                Abide

                                Shadow

                                Refuge

                                Fortress

                                Guardian angels

                                Bear you up

                                Holds fast

                                Protect

                                Be with you

                                Rescue

                                Honour.

If you pray all of this prayer, and not just the few verses that make do as our Responsorial Psalm on this day, then many more images reveal that we are forever in God’s heart and mind.  I especially cherish the assurance that,

He will cover you with his pinions,

        and under his wings you will find refuge.

The image of an eagle, whose eerie is dangerously high up, enfolding her feeble chicks with her strong wings is a loving assurance that God is concerned to keep me safe.

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans    10:8-13

        [Scripture says}

         “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that      is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart         that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with   the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one     confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no       distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is   Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For         “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The word of the Lord.

Paul’s letter to little house-churches scattered throughout the city of Rome has caused more discussion, not to say trouble, than any other writing in the whole of the Bible.  Martin Luther (1483-1546), the author of the Protestant Reformation, misunderstood it.  The Catholic understanding in reply to Luther was equally misleading. 

   Today’s extract comes from the most difficult, yet most profound, chapters in the letter (chapters 9 to 11).  Paul is struggling to understand how both Jews and non-Jews are saved. He is certain that people who “confess that Jesus is Lord” and believe that “God raised him up from the dead” “will be saved”.  He knows that Jewish hearts were, for the most part, hostile to Jesus.  Yet he maintains that when “the fullness of Gentiles” come to faith, so too will the Jewish people.  For when they see what God has achieved among pagan people the hardness of their hearts will be undone so that “all Israel will be saved”. 

   Paul’s tortuous argument is difficult to follow and in places even preposterous (you can’t graft branches on the dead trees).  But the reason why his argument is so strained is because he wants to proclaim to the young Christians scattered around the city of Rome that, come hell or high water, God intends to save everybody.  He does have one very clear sentence - even if it is so wonderful that we might hesitate to believe it.  Speaking to the former pagans who have become Christians, Paul declares,

       

         For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now        have received mercy because of their      disobedience, so they too         have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown     to     you they also may   now receive mercy.                                                                                                 Romans 11:30-31

So far fairly clear.  Pagans did not recognise the true God of Israel.  Through the proclaiming of the gospel of God some have now become sons and daughters of God (Romans 1:13).  The time will come when Jews who are now disobedient will, when they recognise that God has had mercy on pagan Gentiles, will be convinced and open their hearts to God’s mercy.

   All of this convoluted argument is to establish what is the central belief of all Paul’s understanding of God and God’s

intentions in the face of human misery:

 

        For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may     have mercy on all.

Romans 11:32

This requires very serious reflection, not least during Lent, not least in a Church burdened by sin.  All people are sinners.  We know that to be true.  In the biblical perspective, God created humanity with the capacity to be saints and sinners, and both at the same time.  Nobody is perfect.  But the glorious wonder of it all is that God has mercy on all.  If, says Paul, all people sin, then, as day follows night, all people are saved.  We have, says Paul, God’s word on that: God has mercy on all!  What is necessary is a time to repent, to re-think our understanding of God and to be converted to a realisation that God’s steadfast love endures forever—for everyone.  Believe that and that would mean that at last we had come to believe in the gospel.  Yet I am in a Church that taught, and some still believe, that outside the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation.[2]

   As for Paul, on realising the astonishing conclusion he has come to as he ponders “the gospel of God”, all he can do is break out into song at the good news that God-in-Jesus proclaimed to the world:

  

                Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom

and knowledge of God!

                How unsearchable are his judgments

                        and how inscrutable his ways!

                For who has known the mind of the Lord,

                        or who has been his counsellor?”

                        Or who has given a gift to him

                        that he might be repaid?”

                                For from him

                        and through him

                        and to him are all things.

                        To him be glory for ever.

                                   Amen.

In order to understand all of Paul’s writings that have come down to us it is necessary to start at the end.  That is, at the “end” that God has designed for humanity.  Not “the end” in the sense that we cease to exist. Rather “the end” as the destiny of humanity, the perfection of creation.  As the last lines of Paul’s song declare, we come from God, we live through the sustaining power of God, and finally all things return to God.  We can all join with Paul and say “Amen to that”. 

 

      

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke      4:1-13

        Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was         led in the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tested    by the Devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when       they were ended, he was hungry. The Devil said to him,       

        “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become     bread.”      And Jesus answered him,

 

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone. ’”

Deuteronomy 8:3

        And the Devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him,

        “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has        been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If

        you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

        And Jesus answered him, “it is written,

 

                ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only

                        shall you serve.’”                                    Deuteronomy 6:13

         And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of    the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw        yourself down from here, for it is written,

                ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard

                 you’”                                                         Psalm 91:11

and

On their hands they will bear you up,

        lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Psalm 91:12

        And Jesus answered him, “It has been said,

 

        ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Deuteronomy 6:16

        And when the devil had ended every testing, he departed from     him until an opportune time.

The Gospel of the Lord.[3]

   An Identity Parade

The first four chapters of Luke’s Gospel are about the identity of Jesus.  At the very beginning, Luke’s readers and hearers learn that John the Baptist “will be great before the Lord”.  He will “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:15-16).  He will, his father sings, “be called the prophet of the Most High” (1:76).  Yes, prophet of the Most High.  But not “Son of the Most High” (1:32). 

   The child born of the Mary is the Son of God (1:35).  The shepherds learn from the angel of the Lord that the child is Christ the Lord (2:11).  Simeon thanks the Lord God that in seeing the child “my eyes have seen your salvation”, “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” and “glory for your people  Israel” (2:29-32).  Anna recognised in Jesus “the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).  The Temple in Jerusalem is, says the young boy, “my Father’s house” (2:49).

   If there are any doubts as to the identity of the child of Mary, we can trace the activity of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of his life.  From the very beginning in his mother’s womb,

        The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will    be called holy—the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

When Jesus was baptised “and was praying” (a very Lukan touch),

        … the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit        descended on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice    came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am       well pleased.                                                     Luke 3:21-22

   The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) traced his descent from Abraham.  Luke traces it back to God.  To be sure, Jesus is “the Son of Adam” but he is ultimately “the Son of God” (3:38). 

   After all this confirmation as to the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth, he returns from the Jordan, “full of the Holy Spirit” and  “led by the Holy Spirit” he is brought into the wilderness for forty days.

   When he returned from the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is “led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness “for forty days”. Our Gospel reading today begins with the double emphasis that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The first readers and hearers of Luke’s account of the testing “by the Devil” will have been assured from the outset that it is God’s Spirit in Jesus, the very Son of God, that the Devil confronts.

   Lead us not into…

 

   There is, however, an issue that must be examined before we immerse ourselves in the story.  Most English translations of this incident translate “to be tested” as “to be tempted” and head the incident “The Temptation of Jesus”.  This is simply wrong.

In the New Testament, with all the authority that gives, the Letter of James, the brother of the Lord, states with the utmost clarity and insistence that God does not tempt people:

        Blessed is the one who withstands temptation, for, being      approved, such receive the crown of life that is promised to         those who love him [God). Let no one say        when enduring temptation, “I am being tempted by         God,” for God is not         subject to temptation by evil and he himself tempts no one. But   each person is tempted when lured and enticed by one’s own       desire.                            James 1:12-13 (my translation)

Even in our greatest prayer, the ‘Our Father” we are misled by “lead us not into temptation”.  It should be “do not put us to the test”.[4]   And in the sentence in the Letter to Hebrew Christians in 4:15 it is more true to the teaching of that letter to read “tested” where most translations use “tempted”.

    Luke informs his readers and hearers that the Devil departed defeated from Jesus “until an opportune time”.  There are many occasions in the Luke’s Gospel when opponents tested the determination of Jesus to do his Father’s will.  Even his apostles (Luke 22:14) at the Last Supper were disputing which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24).  Satan was active among them:

        Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of         the   number of the twelve. He went away and      conferred with the         chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.                                                                                            Luke 22:3-4

Simon Peter, the fisherman who confessed he was a sinful man, spoke no more than the truth, for Jesus had to tell him,

        “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,        that he     might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for       you that your   faith may not fail.”                   Luke 22:31

When Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives before his arrest, he has to acknowledge that “the power of darkness” is active there (Luke 22:53).

   What is at stake in this dramatic testing of Jesus by the Devil is his identity.  What Jesus does is to stand up for God and for God’s authority, the very origin of his own being and his own authority.  We come to this testing with the utmost clarity as to who Jesus truly is.  Luke has left us in no doubt. The drama that he presents is an overture to all that his readers and hearers will learn before we come to the foot of the cross.  The struggles of his ministry among the people and their political and religious elites are foreshadowed in the mind-battles between Jesus and the Devil in the wilderness.  

    Mark gave a very brief account of the testing of Jesus: he was in the wilderness forty days being tested by Satan (Mark 1:13).  Matthew and Luke, both of whom used Mark’s Gospel as a source of much of their material, turned his brief sentence into a psychological drama.  Using direct quotations from God’s holy Scriptures, the protagonists seek to determine to whom the world belongs.  Is to be the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the Devil?  Fighting on behalf of God, Jesus wins the battle.  But, looking around our Church, looking around our world, it is not yet obvious that the war has been won.

Joseph O’Hanlon

 

 

 

[1]  The words “repent” and “believe” are imperatives.  That is, Jesus is ordering his listeners to do as he commands.  If they want to know “the gospel of God” they had better repent and believe.

[2] The Fourth Lateran Council that began in 1215 declared that “The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved”.  This teaching was routinely repeated by Councils and Popes down to Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis.  Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) declared that “By faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can be saved.  This is the only ark of salvation”.

[3]  I have inserted the references to the quotations from Scripture used by Jesus and the Devil.  But the text of Scripture used by the protagonists is closer to the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament, the version used by all writers of the New Testament.  There is some difference between the Hebrew and the Greek in these quotations but not of very great significance.   

[4]  This matter will concern us on the Seventeenth Sunday of the Year of Luke when the Gospel of the day contains Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

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