Father Donald Senior, CP

Put to the test

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Chocolate sales will spike and florists will have a banner day. But it is also the first Sunday of Lent, a season of penance and reflection as we prepare for Easter — not exactly a hearts and flowers kind of mood!

The Sunday readings draw heavily on the words and spirit of the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Bible. One commentator has dubbed Deuteronomy as “meditations on the frontier.”

The setting of the entire book has Moses speaking to the Israelites as they stand on Mount Nebo and gaze across the Jordan Valley to the Promised Land. Moses, the great leader who was privileged to speak to God during the 40-year desert journey of Israel, glimpsed the land of promise but would not live to cross over the Jordan River and take possession of it.

The author of Deuteronomy (we don’t know who the actual author was) presents Moses giving as it were his last testimony to the assembled people as they stand on the brink of a new age. A constant refrain is that the Israelites should not forget where they came from and who made it possible for them to be liberated from the slavery of Egypt.

“It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your ancestors, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery” (Dt 7:7-8).

To this very day, observant Jews daily recite a passage from Deuteronomy called the “creed of Israel” or, in Hebrew, the “Shema” (from the Hebrew word “listen” or “remember”): “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6:4-6). These words are contained in the mezuzahs or small cylinders that adorn the doorposts of Jewish homes.

The Gospel passage from Luke portrays Satan testing Jesus’ fidelity as he is about to begin his mission. The setting is once again the desert — a place where one’s strength is tested and, for the Bible, a place of purification and new beginnings.

Now Moses’ words in Deuteronomy are quoted by Jesus himself as he fends off Satan’s efforts to divert him from his God-given mission. If the Israelites were prone to forget where they came from and who had given them the words of life, Jesus would not forget: “One does not live on bread alone” (Dt 8:3); “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Dt 6:13); “You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test” (Dt 6:16).

All of us are prone to forget where we ultimately came from and what our purpose is in life. Lent is a time to probe and test the ultimate meaning of our lives, a time when we are asked to sink beneath our everyday tensions and concerns and to ask ourselves these fundamental questions. The Scriptures today point to the answers: we are creations of God’s love and our lives are to be lived in that spirit.

In a certain way, the meaning of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love and the fundamental conviction of our Christian faith that we are created for love, meet.


  • scripture