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This Sunday's Programme

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1st Sunday Lent A

Sunday 26th February 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 4: 1-11

At his baptism, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus as a dove, and the Father’s voice announced him ‘beloved Son of God’. After this, that same Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the accuser, the devil.  Jesus, after fasting for forty days and nights, hungered.  It was now that the tester, the devil, approached him.  ‘Oh, if you ­_really_ are the ‘Son of God’, say “Stones! Become bread”’. But, Jesus said, ‘God’s word says: Bread alone will not sustain you.  People have a greater hunger for the word that comes from God.’

The accuser then tried another tack.  Taking Jesus to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, he said ‘Oh, if you ­­_really_ are the ‘Son of God’, get God to prove it.  Come on! Throw yourself off and have God’s angels catch you, protecting even your foot.’  But, Jesus said, ‘God’s word says: You shall in no way test the Lord your God.’

The accuser tried yet another tack taking Jesus, this time to an extremely high mountain where all the kingdoms of the world in their glory were in view.  He said to Jesus ‘I will give you all this if you will fall down and worship me.’  But Jesus said to him: ‘Go! God’s word says “The Lord your God alone you shall worship, only God shall you serve.”’ The accuser then left him and behold, angels came and ministered to Jesus.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 50:3-6,12-14,17

As great as your love is, O God,
let your mercy be to me.
As great as your compassion is,
let your cleansing be for me.
Wash me of all my vice,
cleanse me of my sin.

I know my offences,
my sins haunt me.
Against you, you yourself, I sinned,
doing what is offensive to you.

God, create a pure heart in me,
make me faithful in spirit.
Don’t exclude me from your presence
or cut me off from your Spirit.

In the joy of your salvation, restore me.
Fill me with the fire of your spirit.
Then, with all my being,
I can sing praise to your name.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, we have entered the time of Lent. May we journey with Jesus in our weakness. May he bring his Spirit into the dark places of our hearts and lives. As we discover our weakness in temptation, may we know the depth of your love enfolding us. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Matthew’s presentation of the Temptations of Jesus in the desert draws on a number of themes from the Old Testament.

In the paradigmatic story of Temptation, Adam and Eve in the midst of the abundance of the garden are given only one restriction: not to eat of the tree in the centre. Made in God’s image and likeness they are to ‘be like gods’ but at the serpent’s tempting they chose to pre-empt God’s plan, trust the serpent’s and take the gift for themselves. Rather than grow up to greatness in God’s way, they want to do it their way…and suffer disaster. Jesus, in contrast, at the limit of deprivation from his time of fasting, refuses to use his powers for himself but waits upon God’s life giving Word.

In being baptised by John, Jesus’ aligns himself publicly with the sinners of Israel. There, he is acknowledged by the Father as his Beloved Son and is then led by the Spirit into the wilderness to have his filial fidelity tested as was the Israelites’ in their 40 years in the wilderness. Matthew has Jesus answer Satan by quoting from three crucial chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, i.e. 6-8, where Moses preaches on the meaning of the time in the wilderness. In the first temptation, Jesus shows that he understands that the miracle of the manna was to proclaim that true life comes from being faithful to God’s Word. In his response to the second temptation, Jesus asserts that, unlike the Israelites at Massah, humans must not demand displays of divine power. The third temptation focuses on the cosmic struggle between good and evil in our world and faces the question of who is God and who is to be worshipped. Jesus’ will have all authority in heaven and on earth conferred on him, as Matthew recognises at the end of the Gospel, Mt 29:18, but only after he has suffered the costly obedience of following God’s Word for him and passed through the ultimate wilderness of suffering and death into the radiant life of Resurrection.

Finally, the 40 days fast in the wilderness recalls the fasts of Moses and Elijah – the extraordinary leaders of the Old Testament. These two men appear with Jesus at the Transfiguration, talking with him about his Passover from death to life.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Oscar Wilde famously quipped: ‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’ This image of temptation works well in modern advertising: something warm and fuzzy used to promote ice-creams and lingerie. The Gospels don’t present it that way at all. In fact, the person most shown to be tempted in the Gospels is Jesus himself. This should make us pause and really ask what is this tempting all about. Obviously temptation is not just a little diversion, a little hiccup along the way but rather something that goes to the core of our faith. The temptations of Jesus are placed immediately after his baptism where the Father declares Jesus to be his Beloved Son. In Mark, it says that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.

In the first temptation, Satan tempts Jesus to use his power solely to look after himself. What he wants Jesus to do is to use his power with no relation to God or to other people. But that goes against a fundamental principle of the Scriptures: when a word of God is addressed to people it draws them into relationship with God and into service of others. We can never act alone, solely for ourselves. Created in the image of a Trinitarian God, we exist in relationship.

In the second temptation, Satan tempts Jesus to subvert the nature of reality. God is God, and we are God’s creatures. It is not for us to set the tune that God should play to. As we know from the dynamics of human love, demanding signs of care is no way to love. So, too, in our relationship with God. The irony of course is that if we demand signs, and they are given, they are still not enough to form the basis of trust or belief.

In the third temptation, Satan tempts Jesus concerning what type of power/authority he will wield. It is significant that Satan wants Jesus to bow down. Once he bows down, he will give Jesus the power to have people bow down to him, and then down it will go: a form of authority that operates on making people less than the one above. Jesus totally rejects this. His authority will come from being faithful to God’s word for him: to embrace our humanity and love it through rejection, torture, and a shameful death. Having experienced the worst of humanity, he in love still offers the grace of God. His authority does not put people down but rather raises them up to life in God.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Liminality! A great word though rarely dropped into casual conversation. It means being at a limit which turns into a threshold and so applies perfectly to the temptations of Jesus. In his fast, he went to the limit of his human capacity. There Satan tested what it meant for him to be the beloved ‘Son of God’. In remaining faithful in weakness, he showed what was the source of his strength: his trust in the Father. What happens on the edges often reveals our true nature. This applies to each of us, as individuals and as a society.

We admire sports people when they go to the very edge of their ability and still succeed. So, too, we should admire the recovering alcoholics or addicts who day by day, even moment by moment, confront their weaknesses, trusting in a higher Power. Parents learn the depth of their love, not just when their kids are cute, but when, night after night, they walk the floor with a sick child, or, when their children are older, they go searching for their lost ones in the dark night of drugs or delusion. Spouses know what marriage means when they hang in there, when ‘it’ doesn’t seem to be working, still trying to find another way. People find what integrity means when they have to walk away from an abusive situation – be it a marriage, a job – feeling as though they are risking their future. We all learn much when someone we love dies and we recall our joys together, our regrets, who that person made us be.

So, too, for us as a community and as a society. It has been said that you can tell how well a society is by how well it cares for the weakest, the people on the edge. In the Old Testament, the yardstick for the soundness of a society was how well the widows and orphans were treated. Having no male to defend them, they had no voice in law. With Project Compassion we are invited to consider the weak of our world. But there are others we need to consider: the mentally ill and their families, refugees, foreigners, some elderly…the list can go on.

As we enter Lent, and join Jesus in experiencing our liminality, let us take time to reflect on where we are weak: in ourselves, in our community and in our society, and pray that the Spirit may drive us through that wilderness so we may become the beloved of God.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– This illustration of the first temptation comes from the St Albans Psalter, an English illuminated manuscript of the 12th century, and is one of the most important  examples of English Romanesque book production.

– In Christ in the Desert by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoy (1837 – 1887) we are confronted by a starving Christ who truly looks as though he has faced the abyss.  Of this painting,  Tolstoy said “ It is the best Christ  I ever saw.”

– This presentation of the third Temptation is by Jean-Marie Saint-Eve (1810 -1856), a French artist.

– In the painting to the right, Christ strides into the wilderness.  The sunrise betokens that dawning of a new era.  Dagmar Anders is a living German-Austrian art painter, art collector and art gallery owner.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

Essentially, the temptations that Jesus faced were to exclude God from part of his life. Under the guise of freedom, Satan tempted Jesus to use his powers for himself, to make God a remote miracle worker, and to worship someone or thing other than God.

As you spend time mulling this week, consider
¬ – where do you cut God out of your life? We all have places where we pretend to ignore God’s presence. This Lent invite God into at least one of them.
– when do you want God to be a miracle worker for you rather than a friend helping you through the challenges of life?
– what people or things tests your commitment to God?

These are all big questions but Lent is a time of grace when we can do some serious stocktaking on life.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

God has given each of us a unique calling. The signs of what that calling could be come from three mains areas of life:

– our gifts and talents
– the circumstances of life
– the desires of our heart.

In various ways we can be tempted not to live out the fullness of our call.

Rest in the love of your God.

– Consider how your gifts and talents shape your life. How do you foster those gifts? Have you received them as God’s gift to you and considered how you can use them to serve God and others?

Do you have gifts that you have neglected? Ask God if now is the time to develop them.

– Consider the circumstances of your life. What aspects are a joy to you, what are a source of challenge? Do you ask God to be with you through all your circumstances?

Ask God what circumstances you should face and try to bring God’s grace into that situation.

– Consider the desires of your heart. If you were free of all constraints, what are your desires for your life? With God, imagine how these could be lived out. Let your imagination be lead by the wildness of God’s Spirit.

Ask God how you could practically realise that desire in your ordinary life, even if only in a small way.

Rest in the love of your God.