Sunday's first reading is one of the most important passages in Scripture (Dt 26:4-10). Not only does it describe the words and actions of an early Jewish sacrifice; but if we listen carefully to this ancient proclamation of Jewish faith, we'll hear the Sacred Author telling us why we have Scripture.

Those performing the ritual start by narrating an event which had happened centuries before: "My father (Jacob) was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien." But then, without warning or explanation, the persons offering the sacrifice change the pronouns in the narrative from third person to first.

"When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us," they proclaim, "imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt....Bringing us into this country, He gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me." The narrators actually become participants in the events they narrate.

Continuing news

Whoever wrote, saved or passed on Scripture believed that true faith is much more than just remembering and retelling the history of God working with our ancestors. Biblical faith conveys the conviction that what God has once done, God continues to do.

Our Sacred Authors aren't driven to narrate God's actions because they're historians, but because they're commentators on the faith-life of the communities for whom they write. Along with reminding readers of their sacred history, they also point out God's loving presence in the day and age in which they compose their works.

Paul's passage from Roman demonstrates that he shares the same insight about his community's participation in God's salvation which all other Sacred Authors have (Rom 10:8-13). The Apostle is concerned not just with making certain that the Roman Church knows the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection, but also with assuring its members that they're daily taking part in both dimensions of that event.

"What does Scripture say?" the Apostle asks. "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach)." God's word is alive because it lives in them.

Nowhere is the concept of God alive and working in the biblical community clearer than in Luke's temptation narrative (Lk 4:1-13). Commentators agree that both Matthew and Luke surface their three specific wilderness temptations not so much from what the historical Jesus actually experienced, but from what Jesus' Church at the time of the writing of the Gospels, was experiencing.

Temptations

For instance, it's not necessarily the historical Jesus, but Luke's community which is tempted to turn itself into a social action agency instead of being a proclaimer of God's word. That's why Jesus reminds Satan (and us): "Not on bread alone shall a person live."

And it's also Luke's community, not just the historical Jesus, which constantly faces the temptation to become political power-brokers instead of remaining humble and dedicated servants of God. Likewise, it's Luke's community, not just the historical Jesus, which daily endures the diabolic enticement to ignore or downplay the nitty-gritty, loving works of faith, and replace them with the spectacular, newsmaking actions which we all long to be a part of.

And like Jesus, we know that resisting the temptation to turn our God-rooted ministry into a more understandable, more humanly acceptable movement is a lure which will always be with us. Even after we successfully conquer one temptation, we can be sure the devil is still hanging around, simply awaiting "another opportunity." Once God becomes flesh in Jesus and then becomes flesh in Jesus' community, our temptations and God's temptations meld together.

Nothing is past to God -- or to God's people.

(02-26-98)