Friday, February 12, 2016

Week One: An On-Line Bible Study for Lent

This Lenten season I'm trying something different with my church.  We're trying an on-line Bible Study where I'm sending out via e-mail and posting on our church's private Facebook group a scripture passage, questions for reflection and some other things to consider.  Here's week one.

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent
Week One
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13 Contemporary English Bible

Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

Questions for Reflection:
1.       1.  The story of the temptation of Jesus is only in the so-called “Synoptic” (literally “see together” or “similar”) Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  John doesn’t include this story.  How would your understanding of Jesus be different if this story had not been included by any of the Gospel writers?  How does this story shape how you understand Jesus?

2.     2.  Mark's Gospel tells of Jesus’ temptation in only a couple of sentences.  Matthew and Luke include the three questions of the devil and Jesus’ responses but in different orders.  Both Gospels begin with the temptation to turn stones into bread, but Matthew puts the temptation to rule all the kingdoms of the world last while Luke puts the temptation to jump off the temple last.  Why do you think Luke and Matthew put them in different orders?  Does the order make a difference in how you understand them?

3.       3.  In the temptation story, Jesus uses scripture to resist the devil’s temptations.  The devil, however, also quotes scripture when he tempts Jesus to jump off of the temple and be caught by angels.  What does it mean that both Jesus and the devil quote scripture?

4.       4.  Do you believe in a literal devil or Satan?  If so or if not, how does your understanding of Satan affect what this story means to you?

5.       5.  Luke surrounds his temptation story with different material than Matthew.  Luke puts Jesus’ genealogy immediately before the temptation—a genealogy different than Matthew’s and one that goes all the way back to Adam.  Luke calls Adam “son of God” in 3:38.  What point is Luke trying to make putting his genealogy before the temptation?  Also different from Matthew, immediately after the temptation, Luke includes an account of Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth.  In that story, Jesus preaches from the prophet Isaiah and says he has come to fulfill the prophet’s words:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, 
    to proclaim release to the prisoners 
    and recovery of sight to the blind, 
    to liberate the oppressed, 
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

What do these words of the prophet Isaiah which Jesus says he has come to fulfill have to do with the temptation story?
      6.  The temptations Jesus faces have to do with control—stones into bread means control over immediate gratification, ruling the kingdoms of the world means controlling through governments and politics, jumping off the temple to be rescued by angels means controlling others through awe or even entertainment as well as controlling God.  What are your temptations of control that you face?

Further Reflection:

"Wildernesses come in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can really tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty. No food. No earthly power. No special protection ...

Needless to say, this is not a situation many of us seek. Most of us, in fact, spend a lot of time and money trying to stay out of it; but I don't know anyone who succeeds at that entirely or forever. Sooner or later, every one of us will get to take our own wilderness exam, our own trip to the desert to discover who we really are and what our lives are really about.

I guess that could sound like bad news, but I don't think it is. I think it is good news — because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be."
— The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor

There are a lot of bad Jesus movies out there, but a depiction of Jesus on film I have always appreciated was a 2000 TV miniseries simply titled “Jesus.”  This retelling of Jesus’ temptation is done in a creative way that is different from both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts but I would argue it is nonetheless faithful to them.  Watch it on YouTube and see what you think.

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