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Lent 1, Yr C, 17.02.2013
Dt 26.1-11: a wandering Aramaean was my father...
Ps 91.1-2, 9-16: God is our refuge
Rom 10.8b-13: everyone who calls on name of Lord shall be saved: Jew & Greek
Lk 4.1-13: temptation narrative // Ezra (1091)
Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers
of darkness, and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to
grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus
Christ our Lord.
presents Jesus as a counter-blast to the narrowness of the Essenes, etc.)
(Luke presents Jesus as a counter-blast to the narrowness of the Essenes, etc.)
If I say to
you. ‘Mary had a little lamb’, what is your response?
Yes, you immediately gave me the next line.
Even if you had not said it, you would have thought it, wouldn’t you? -
for we all know this nursery rhyme. Keep
that in the back of your mind for a while.
We are in Year
C of the lectionary when our concentration is on the gospel according to Luke.
If one asks about Luke’s special concerns, then one of them is the
concern for the outsiders such as women and Samaritans.
In today’s gospel we have further evidence of this concern.
I preached on
this Sunday two years ago when our gospel was Matthew’s version of the
temptation narrative, In that sermon I spelled out how Matthew’s telling of
the temptation related it to the wise, powerful, wellborn pattern of humanity.
Today we have
Luke’s version, and although Luke certainly knows the same pattern of humanity
and relates Jesus to it explicitly at least twice in chapter 2, it is not the
tune he has chosen to march to at this point.
I believe that Luke probably received the tradition of the tempting of
Jesus in basically the form that Matthew has it, but, rather than relating it to
the story of
Let me explain.
You have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Essenes were a priestly sect, and it is generally agreed that they
are the ones who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Their type of emphasis on priestly purity in the line of Ezra is
something opposed by Luke. He does
this by presenting the temptation of Jesus as the antithesis of the avowed
mission of Ezra as found in the 7th chapter of the Book of Ezra.
Why does Luke
choose to present Jesus in counterpoint to Ezra?
Ezra the priest
and Nehemiah the governor were post-Exilic Jewish nationalists who were intent
upon getting rid of all the foreign wives, etc. that Jews had married during or
after the Exile. This is sharply
stated in Ezra 9.1-2 where it says, ‘The people of
other words, Ezra and Nehemiah tried to impose a form of what we would call
‘ethnic cleansing’. This view
was opposed at the time by a tract that we know as the Book of Ruth, which
combats this narrow ethnicity by placing King David in the line of Ruth the
Moabite. Now it is this same narrow
vision that Luke sets out to offset by telling the genealogy of Jesus and the
temptation narrative that follows it in a way that subverts Ezra, chapter 7,
verses 1-10, as we shall see. and he gives
a genealogy for Jesus that traces him back to Adam, son of God, a counter-blast
to Ezra’s ‘purity’ of lineage
as a priest, and in the temptation narrative, which immediately follows the
genealogy, Luke rearranges the order of the temptations, interchanging the last
two so as to match the order of Ezra’s intentions.
In the first
five verses of chapter 10 Ezra proudly traces 16 generations of his priestly
genealogy back through Zadok to Aaron the chief priest.
And in verses 9 and 10 he goes up to
To recap the
four elements of Ezra 7, we have (1) Ezra’s priestly descent, (2) Ezra seeks
the law, (3) he seeks to do it, and (4) he seeks to teach it in
Now Luke: just
before today’s gospel Luke has given the genealogy of Jesus of 77 generations
back through David, to Abraham, and finally to Adam, the son of God, thus
including all humanity (3.23-38). Then
Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he is tested.
The first temptation to turn a stone to bread is met, as in Matthew, by
Jesus citing Deut 8.3b, but Luke omits the words ‘but by every word that comes
from the mouth of God’, This
phrase, meaning the Torah, Luke expects his audience to supply themselves.
Luke’s audience, drawing on their memory, would, in effect, ‘seek the
law of the Lord’, and this very having to seek for it would emphasise that one
is to seek the Torah. Luke then
places next the temptation to do the devil’s will rather than do God’s will,
namely the Torah. In the third
temptation the devil seeks to teach Jesus the scriptures.
So, in effect,
Jesus, the true Adam and Son of God, is tested in precisely the three things
that Ezra himself was so proud of intending to do.
If Ezra and the
Essenes tried to tighten up
And so for our
day. How do you suppose Luke would
handle some of the issues of our day? If
Luke offset the Jewish hatred of the Samaritans by making a Samaritan the good
neighbour, how would he combat Islamaphobia?
If he based Jesus’ genealogy on Adam, how would he meet David
Cameron’s call for marriage for same sex couples?
In short, if
Luke false-footed the Essenes of his day, does he not challenge us to be
clear-eyed about the fears and prejudices of our day that hinder all people
without exception being enabled to hear and respond to the gospel of love and
the loving community held out in Jesus Christ?
And, having in
mind the Growing Church conference that we went to for our United Benefice
away-day, are there viable and visible things that we can do at St Mark’s that
will say ‘welcome’ in such a way that people may feel like trying to put
their foot inside our front door. A
welcoming cup of coffee or tea, especially on cold days, is an excellent idea,
but they have to come through two doors to get to them.
How can we make these doorways welcoming entrances rather than potential
barriers to be overcome? Perhaps
Luke has given us some light on this that will change it from being a problem to
a challenge and an opportunity.