I often remind my marriage course students that it's one thing to learn the principles of a good marriage in a quiet, distraction-free classroom. It's another thing to carry out those principles against a backdrop of three demanding children, an insecure spouse, pressure at work, and a thousand other things which prompt the haunting, repetitive question, "Why did I ever get married?"

The classroom isn't real life. And when real life happens, we can only pray we'll have the insight and courage to live by our principles.

That's why Sunday's combination of readings is so important. The first two contain two of Scripture's most significant professions of faith. The third describes the environment in which we're expected to live that faith.

Milk and honey

The first reading (Dt 26: 4-10) offers one of the earliest formal statements of faith in Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures. The sacred author puts it into the context of a liturgical offering ceremony, similar to the procession of gifts during our Christian Eucharist.

Along with the offering, the person also states the reason for his/her generosity: "My father (Jacob) was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt,...became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,...we cried to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors..who saw our affliction, toil and oppression... (and) brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm...into this country, a land flowing with milk and honey."

The dramatic change from a third- to a first-person pronoun in the proclamation demonstrates the oneness of Yahweh's Chosen People through the centuries. What happened to one Israelite happens to all Israelites. Yahweh is a God who breaks into the life of a specific people, in a specific place, at a specific time in history, and continues to break in even today.

Paul also believes God enters one's life in concrete ways (Rom 10: 8-13). But his oft-quoted profession of faith differs in two dramatic ways from our Deuteronomy passage. First, God comes into our life through one special person: Jesus: "No one who believes in Him will be put to shame."

Second, Jesus' saving actions aren't limited just to Jews: "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord (Jesus) is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon Him."

Paul's experience of the risen Jesus -- no longer Jew or Gentile, male or female -- pushes him through the faith barriers which limit earlier Jewish professions of faith.

Devil's temptation

Yet, as I mentioned above, no one lives one's faith in a vacuum. Whether we believe it's Yahweh or Jesus coming into our lives, those lives are never free of things which obscure God's presence. That's why the first three evangelists begin Jesus' ministry with a temptation scene (Lk 4; 1-130.

Though Matthew and Luke differ on the sequence of Jesus' three temptations, both agree on Satan's specific enticements. In each case, Jesus, who here represents all Christians, is tempted to ignore God working in His life. He's drawn to zero in on material things ("command this stone to be bread"), to lust after power and glory ("this will be yours if you worship me"), or to concentrate on the spectacular ("throw yourself down from here"). Satan tempts Jesus to see what He can accomplish in His life if He leaves God out of it, if He gives up the dream that faith implants.

But perhaps the last line is the most significant: "When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time." Along with all biblical writers, Luke is convinced that temptations are ongoing. We can always expect to be "misdirected."

No matter how exact and glorious our profession of faith, we never experience faith in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Even in the middle of trying to live our faith, we'll be tempted to live without our faith.

(03-01-01)