Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
This is, of course, the first question of the Shorter Catechism (the Westminster Shorter Catechism, to be exact), and for many years memorizing the shorter catechism was a required aspect of Presbyterian Christian formation.
As of late, there has been some discussion of bringing back memorization as a means for teaching the faith. I get the arguments: biblical illiteracy is rampant, worship attendance spotty, innovative liturgy is trumping ancient creeds. But, here’s the thing: Wagging our fingers at folks rarely brings about the change we are after.
And besides, there is a counter-argument that says all that matters is to be a good person and do the right thing. What does it matter if we know man’s chief end or the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed or Amazing Grace or A Mighty Fortress? Like everything else, we can Google it if we need to know it, right?
I wouldn’t go that far either. I would say it does matter that those words are in our bones and not just on our smartphones. It matters a lot because those are the things we hang on to when hell breaks loose and the devil is more than at our doorstep or when we are famished in the wilderness and uncertain if there will ever be manna, water or a way out. They remain when all we thought was certain slips through our fingers like the dust placed on our foreheads just a few days ago.
Notice in this diabolical dialogue that Satan has with Jesus that Jesus responds to all three threats with Scripture. All three responses are from Deuteronomy. Jesus goes back to the faith of his childhood, that catechism he knew by heart, those rote prayers repeated so often that didn’t leave him when he needed them the most. Have you experienced that kind of diabolical dialogue?
You are tired, famished, bewildered and afraid. Things haven’t gone as you planned or hoped. So you start to question: Maybe that Spirit-descending, voice-from-heaven moment was an illusion. If you are so beloved, why would God drive you here to this desolate place? Maybe you should rethink this manna-from-heaven, bread-of-life-blessed-and-broken call and take a shortcut.
What’s the harm in doing an end run around God’s promise of provision and care? All’s well that ends well, right? Take a few extra allotments of the manna, leave the fragments on the hillside, don’t worry about feeding the hungry crowd. Isn’t the first part of the Greatest Commandment to love yourself, after all? Building bigger barns is prudent. Burying the talents pragmatic. Haven’t we justified so many of life’s decisions with that diabolical dialogue?
But Jesus goes to Deuteronomy, that part of the Torah that details what covenant relationship looks like, that tells and retells the story: A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien; when we were afflicted, we cried to the Lord and the Lord heard our voice and brought us out of Egypt. This is who we are. This is who I am. This is who God is. This is the Word of the Lord we live by.
Tired, bewildered, famished with hell having broken loose right after heaven was torn apart and he was called beloved, Jesus goes to what he knows, and so will we. What’s that adage? When we don’t know what to do, we do what we know. So, what is it that we know by heart?
Jesus, don’t you want the glory without the suffering? Who wouldn’t? Wouldn’t it be grand to have all this under your thumb? Doesn’t might make right? Don’t we all want to be deemed a winner? Isn’t this vision Satan paints completely opposite the one of Holy Week? No mocking and laughter, no betrayal or abandonment. Just greatness. There may be no bigger temptation than this one in our culture. We value winning over integrity time and time again.
Come, on Jesus, take a shortcut to glory, do an end run around the way that takes you to the cross and the grave, carpe diem! But famished and afraid, Jesus goes to what he knows. He quotes Deuteronomy again. The Lord your God you shall fear. Don’t forget he brought you out of the land of Egypt, he blessed you to be a blessing, made of you a holy nation, God’s own people.
When hell has broken loose and the devil has moved beyond our doorstep and is whispering in our ear and we think we’ve not gotten our due or we are sure we deserve more or we are grasping for meaning and purpose, what law is written on our hearts? Whose reign will have dominion over us? Who and what will we worship then?
Oh, but, Jesus, if God is who God purports to be and you are as you have been named to be, then surely you will be fine if you throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple? Won’t it be good to know God’s got your back? Again, this is so opposite of God’s story, so counter to God’s plan for salvation history. Remember the taunts at the end of this Lenten season: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” and “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”
Haven’t we all had those doubts? Come on God, surely you are able to keep my foot or the foot of the one I love from dashing against a stone, so why don’t you? We’ve had those times when we are lost in the wilderness uncertain of how we got there, groping to find a way out, ready to sell our soul for some relief — and then something reminds us of the story in which we’ve been grafted: a wandering Aramean was my ancestor … I once was lost but now I am found … this is Christ’s body broken for you … those who mourn will be comforted … on Christ the solid rock I stand … yea thou I walk through the valley of death.
What do we know by heart when the devil has broken his bonds and moved into our space? Do we remember that God has prepared a place for us and God has plans for us that are good and the Lord is our shepherd?
Where do we go when we are in the wilderness, famished and afraid? What do we know by heart? Who will we worship then?
I have a good friend who has been in the wilderness for a long time. She is grieving the death of her father. She is caring for a mother whose dementia is so advanced she no longer knows who she is. Her teenage child has been acting like, well, a teenager. She told me there were days she didn’t think she’d make it, and she said that on those days “I would walk. I would walk for miles and miles and as I walked I prayed. I recited all the prayers of my childhood, prayers I didn’t realize I still knew.” She said, “I must have looked crazy, but I would say over and over again, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace. Holy Mary, mother of God pray for us.’ I would pray the Lord’s Prayer over and over again and then I would recite the Nicene Creed. I would pray O, God come to our aide and hasten to help us. Over and over again.” She said: “I think those words enabled me to keep going. They may have saved my life.”
- What do you know by heart? What has shaped you so much that it comes to your consciousness even when you don’t summon it?
- Are there particular Scripture passages or prayers you return to when you are in the wilderness?
- What tempts you to deny God’s Word or will? When have you given into temptation?
- Choose a Scripture passage that will guide you during Lent. Memorize it and note when it comes to mind.
- What comforts you when things are utterly turned upside down? How do you keep going?
- Are there people in the wilderness that we are called to minister to this Lent? Who are they and how can we walk with them and support them through wilderness temptations?
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