Saturday, February 6, 2016

In the Garden once again

Luke 4:1-3, the account of the temptation of Christ, the gospel text assigned for the First Sunday of Lent, is one that brings to mind another similar conversation - the one in Genesis 3 between Eve and the serpent.  It is noteworthy that the strategy of the tempter is similar - call into doubt the veracity of God's Word, and offer something good to eat, something that must be very appealing.  In Eve's case the tempter was successful in his seductions; in Jesus' case, not at all.  Our old enemy still lurks; we do well to call on our Lord to be with us in the struggle.

(The following questions attempt to get at some of the issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but to give the preacher a way to enter into a law/gospel conversation with the text.  For more on this method, see my book, available on this page.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the Word, is hard at work here, battling the devil.  This story functions to reveal to us the power that Jesus has over evil, and is therefore functioning as gospel.  As St. Paul says: "[Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no explicit word of Law here, no word that lifts up our need for Christ.  Having said that, the very presence of the devil is a word of Law, reminding us that as temptations came to the only Begotten Son of God, so temptations are bound to come to all the children of God.  In the sense that the Law says, "You need Jesus!" this text lifts up our need to run to Jesus in our time of trial.

3. With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is one of the rare stories where we are allowed to identify with Jesus.  Usually that is to be resisted, but here, as Jesus is one tested, so we are tested.  We make a mistake, however, if we view this as a license to believe for a moment that we can be like Jesus and resist the devil in our own strength.  No, we cling to Jesus, and Jesus in us is the One who will be able to resist the tempter.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the invitation to live in response to God's work in Christ.  If there is a call to obedience here it is the call to believe in the power of God's Word to resist temptation.  We are invited as children of God to live our lives in the life-giving presence of God's Word.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The whole scene suggests some alternatives:  deceived/enlightened; hungry/filled; tempted/at peace.

6. Exegetical work:  One of the most important insights for this text is to realize that when the devil says, "If you are the Son of God..." this is a conditional phrase that implies fact.  As any student of biblical Greek knows, there are 3 conditions in Greek grammar - fact, non-fact, and uncertainty.  Conditions of fact, like in this text are saying, "If you are the Son of God, and you are..."  If this were a condition of non-fact, the text would be saying, "If you are the Son of God, and you aren't..." And if this were a condition of uncertainty, the text would be saying, "If you are the Son of God, and you might or might not be..."  One can easily see that it makes all the difference.  In the text for today, since the conditional phrase is one of fact, the devil's statement could be translated, "Since you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread."  It is therefore a temptation to misuse the title of Son of God.  It is not a temptation meant to cause doubt in Jesus' mind regarding his sonship.  That would only be the case if this were one of the other two conditions.  Because the English "if" does not reveal which condition the Greek language is giving us, it is very important when encountering a conditional phrase, to seek out a source that can make clear which condition exists.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Paul Jaster, writing his analysis archived under 2013 Year C Gospel for the First Sunday in Lent, does an excellent job of lifting up this temptation of Jesus, as the temptation to abandon the Cross.  Jaster uses a steady progression of deepening temptations to reveal how Jesus was led from mere surface temptation to the temptation to abandon his entire mission. He also shows how we too are tempted to avoid the Cross, but are called to daily dying so that we might live. As always, go to study for more details.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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