First Sunday of Lent
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth of the books of the Torah or Pentateuch – the foundational books of the Covenant. At the same time, this last book is the first of a contemporary scholarly grouping of books proposed as the work of a single editor – the Deuteronomist. That grouping includes Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings. The Deuteronomistic history, as it is known, relates the story of early Israelite history from the exodus to the rise and fall of Israel’s kings. It looks across this history with certain theological perspectives. The works reveal the central importance of the covenant, the fidelity of God to that covenant, and the tragic tendency of God’s people to fail in their covenantal obligations.
Most commentators on Luke see this history as exercising a deep influence on the Gospel of Luke. Luke also contrast divine fidelity and human faithlessness. At the same time, Luke sees this tragic reality overturned by the goodness of God Who saves His people from their sins.
The Book of Deuteronomy is cast as a lengthy address by Moses to the people at the end of his service – in a sense we hear his last will and testament. In the passage in question, Moses lays out the ritual offering of the first fruits. The supplicant here is invited to make what amounts to a confession of faith. That confession focuses on the wonder of liberation and deliverance that have come from the hand of this Faithful God. The offering itself becomes an expression of faithful response. And notice that the ritual is not intended merely for the generation arriving in the Promised Land. It is a credo to be recited by future generations many times removed from the fathers who were lead out of Egypt. New generations of individuals will be summoned to recognize their kinship with those who knew such deliverance – and come to understand that this same fidelity of God is to be found in their lives as well. It is no recitation of a dead past, but a profession of a present relationship.
“Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.”
The response to the Psalm this week captures the theological perspective of Psalm 91 – a Psalm that asserts the basis for trust in the Lord. The Lord will not abandon His faithful, but will protect them with a tender care. This beautiful Psalm, particularly beloved of Christians at prayer, figures in the story of Jesus temptation in the desert. In that passage, Jesus quotes the Psalm in response to the false claims of the Devil.
The longest of Paul’s letters, Romans offers a beautiful summary of Paul’s proclamation of God’s plan of salvation. The letter is bold in reminding both Jew and Gentile that salvation is ever and always a gift of a faithful and gracious God. Any illusion that we might merit deliverance by our own observance of the moral law or by exalting human wisdom will always be shattered by the truth of human limits and sinfulness. This truth which would otherwise be terrifying is transformed in the person of Jesus Who offers Himself as our salvation – He is deliverance from bondage to sin – He brings us through the waters of death to life in the Father – He is the promise and its fulfillment.
This good news of unearned grace requires a response. God will not overturn human freedom after the Christ event any more than God would limit the free choice of Adam and Eve. We cannot be saved against our will. We must response freely to this gift in gratitude and love. This is the point of this particular passage from Romans. Mortal, limited, and sinful we may be, but all is now possible. The great unknown is the quality of our response. Will we acknowledge the Lord? Will we allow the transforming power of His love into our hearts? Every relationship, including the relationship of faith, requires the participation of at least two persons.