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Welcome to Brothers and Sisters, the weekly meetup for prayer* and community at Daily Kos.  We put an asterisk on pray* to acknowledge that not everyone uses conventional religious language, but may want to share joys and concerns, or simply take solace in a meditative atmosphere. Anyone who comes in the spirit of mutual respect, warmth and healing is welcome.

It's been quite the week, and I, for one, could use a little time for quiet reflection and the solace of a little prayer*. Follow me below the fold and we'll dig into both.

In the western Christian tradition, today is the First Sunday of Lent, the ritual period of repentance leading up to the great feast of Easter, six weeks hence. Since the calendars coincide this year, it is also the Feast of Orthodoxy in the eastern Christian tradition, the first actual Sunday in the Orthodox observance of Great Lent.

Among the traditions which share the Common Lectionary, the Gospel passage for this Sunday is taken from the fourth chapter of St. Matthew, the chapter just before Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount. Here's the passage (Matthew 4:1-11) in the original, and in my translation from the Greek:

τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος, πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου. καὶ νηστεύσας ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα καὶ νύκτας τεσσεράκοντα ὕστερον ἐπείνασεν. καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ πειράζων εἶπεν αὐτῷ, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ ἵνα οἱ λίθοι οὗτοι ἄρτοι γένωνται. ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, γέγραπται, οὐκ ἐπ' ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλ' ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος θεοῦ. τότε παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς τὴν  ἁγίαν πόλιν, καὶ ἔστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, βάλε σεαυτὸν κάτω· γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται περὶ σοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἀροῦσιν σε, μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου. ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, πάλιν γέγραπται, οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεὸν σου. πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν, καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω ἐάν πεσὼν προσκυνήσῃς μοι. τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ὕπαγε, Σατανᾶ· γέγραπται γάρ, κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις καὶ αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Having fasted for forty days and forty nights, at the end of that time he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread." But Jesus answered him, "It is written that human beings shall live, not by bread alone, but by every utterance that comes from the mouth of God."

Then the devil took him to the Holy City, placed him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and said to him, "If you are the son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written that 'he will give commands to his angels on your behalf,' and 'upon their hands they will bear you up, that you may never dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is also written, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'"

Again the devil took him away, up a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world with their splendor, and said to him, "All these I will give to you, if you will only fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Get away, Satan: for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you adore.'"

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and waited upon him.

Some things to take note of in this passage. First, while it is the devil who does the actual tempting of Jesus, it is the Spirit which drives him (that's actually the verb used in Luke's telling of this story) out into the desert where the temptations take place. This is because, as John Shea notes in his book Gospel Light: Jesus Stories for Spiritual Consciousness, now that Jesus has found his identity as the son of God in his baptism in the Jordan, he has to figure out what it means:

The problem with moments is that they are succeeded by other moments. A moment of ecstatic love may be followed by a moment of the loss of nerve which is then followed by a moment of mundane tasks. The spiritual path is not just recitals of ecstatic experiences. It entails the struggle to realize the insights of special times. What is heard in prayer must be allowed to restructure our sense of identity, reshape our desires, and redirect our emotions and actions. The truth of the spirit must be integrated into mind, body, and social relationships.

...The reason for this meeting with the devil is to clarify the identity of the beloved one. We become clearer about who we are when we refuse certain actions and endorse others.

--John Shea, Gospel Light, 102-103

Second, notice the titles or descriptors that the author has used: ὁ πειράζων, the tempter; ὁ διάβολος, the devil (literally, one who tears or rends apart); and Σατανᾶ, Satan (literally, the accuser or the slanderer). The devil can quote Scripture, too--but only in conditionals ("If you are the son of God...."). Jesus, however, knows Scripture on a much deeper level, and the slanderer doesn't have an answer for that knowledge.

Thirdly, notice how the devil frames his questions. In his mind (and often in ours), to be the beloved one means that one has everything material that one needs--one can never be hungry, for example, and still be loved. It means having power in the way that the world thinks about power. It means being physically safe even when one behaves recklessly. Jesus knows that none of those things is true--he is hungry, and yet he is still loved. He does not have power in the way that the world thinks about power (and, indeed, he refuses it utterly); at least in this story, he can't even prevent the evil one from manhandling him and moving him around. And he will absolutely not be physically safe, as the events of Good Friday will prove quite definitively.

The task for Christians during these forty days (and, frankly, every day--and it's good practice even for those who aren't Christian) is to think carefully about who we are and how that shapes our lives and our actions. Traditionally during Lent, one gives up something that one enjoys, a small sacrifice to bring greater depth to the reflection. I stopped giving up things for Lent many years ago, because I think it's better to think more in terms of doing more, or doing what I already do more intensively, than something relatively superficial. So I'm spending a little more time each day in spiritual reading and reflection, and trying yet again to delve into the mystery of who it is God is calling me to be.

I will ask your prayers* for Meteor Blades and his family, who are grieving the loss of a family member in the ongoing struggles in Libya. Obviously, all of us are thinking good thoughts and praying* for the people of Japan and all those who have died or otherwise suffered because of the earthquake and the tsunami. (If you are so minded, you can make a donation to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and/or ShelterBox USA. You can also donate to the Red Cross by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999. A $10 donation will be added to your mobile phone bill, and the Red Cross will get the funds when you pay the bill.)

In memory of MB's family member, I thought it might be appropriate to offer the salat al-Janazah, the Islamic prayer for the dead:


Originally posted to musing85 on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Spiritual Organization of Unapologetic Liberals at Daily Kos.

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