This is one of those scriptural readings that it is easy to slide over. I don't know about you but if I sit down to read one of the Gospels I find myself dwelling on the interesting passages and hardly bothering about some others; the eye seems to glide over the text and on to something more interesting.
The first reading today is very strange to the modern reader unless we make ourselves familiar with the customs and usages of the ancient world. The extraordinary ceremony related here was no sacrifice but rather a ritual symbolic of a covenant or a solemn promise between two people. What they did was take one or more animals and cut them in half and then laid them out opposite to each other but separate, making a sort of avenue between the two halves just as is recorded here in the Book of Genesis.
The Gospel we are given for our consideration on the First Sunday of Lent is always an account of the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert. This year we are presented with St Luke’s version of this important incident in the life of Christ. Mark’s version of the story is, as we would expect, very brief while the accounts given by Matthew and Luke are more extended and broadly similar but with slight differences in the order of the three temptations.
Are we in the Church like those fellows in Jesus’ parable today: the blind leading the blind? Are we in the Church simply hoodwinking ourselves? Are we, as some would say, a collection of poor individuals so insecure that we cling on to the merest hope of something beyond this world? Our detractors say that we are deceiving ourselves.
We are presented for consideration today one of the very hardest of Jesus’ commands: "Love your enemies". This injunction comes in the very first sentence of today’s text and the rest of the extract is could be regarded as simply a commentary on it.
There are two quite different accounts of the Beatitudes in the Gospels, one in Matthew and the other one presented to us today in the Gospel of Luke. The one more usually quoted is Matthew’s version while the set given to us by St Luke is much less well known.
This is the first account of Jesus actually teaching the people as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. He has already been baptised, he has been tempted in the wilderness, he was rejected in the synagogue of Nazareth, he has exorcised a demon from a man possessed and he healed many sick people including Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. The last line of the previous chapter does tell us that Jesus was preaching in the synagogues of Judea, but here by Lake Galilee is the first occasion when we are told that he is directly teaching the people, although it will be a while yet before we are told the actual content of his teaching.
The Gospel reading today follows directly on from last Sunday’s account of Jesus reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth. When he was finished he sat down and then with all eyes fixed on him he announced, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ In other words he told them that he was the Messiah so long foretold. These words become the first line of our Gospel reading today.
‘Start as you mean to go on’ is a very good proverb and Jesus certainly does this in our Gospel reading today. He stands up in the synagogue of Nazareth and issues a manifesto; he proclaims a statement of intent for the rest of his public ministry.
And this manifesto is not something made up by himself; it consists of the words of one of the most revered of all the prophets, Isaiah.
Now that the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas are over we begin what is prosaically called Ordinary Time. This year is, of course, the year of Luke’s Gospel. But for reasons that might become clear we begin with the story of the first miracle as recorded in the Gospel of John.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket