Lenten testimonies show God’s Providence is unfailing

Father John A. Kiley

About five hundred years before Christ the ancient temple in Jerusalem underwent a major renovation. During this renewal a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the present Bible, was discovered hidden behind a wall. Deuteronomy, a name which means “Second Law,” was probably smuggled out of the northern Kingdom of Israel before its destruction in 750 B.C. and concealed for safe keeping in the southern Kingdom of Judea’s Temple. The Book of Deuteronomy narrates from a northern perspective the admonitions Moses addressed to the people God freed from slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy recounts a glorious period in Jewish history but also a flawed period in Jewish history. The ancient Jews resisted Moses on their divinely ordained expedition to the Promised Land at every turn, most notably by their worship of the Golden Calf at Sinai. Deuteronomy is a tale of Jewish resistance as much as it is a saga of Divine deliverance.

The ancient Jews sojourned forty years in the Sinai desert. They lost their trust in God several times during their desert experience. They grumbled about the lack of bread. They complained about the scarcity of water. They objected to the sameness of their diet. In their impatience with Moses, they venerated the golden calf. Clearly the major sin of the Exodus experience was lack of trust in the Providence of God.

God had indeed proven himself and amply displayed his Divine Providence even before the Jews had departed Egypt. God had heard the cry of the ancient enslaved Hebrews and responded readily to their plight. God had called Moses and Aaron whom he equipped with talents and cleverness that secured the Hebrews’ release from bondage. In the wilderness God faithfully responded to their grumblings. He sent manna when they were hungry. He gave them water from the rock when they were thirsty. He added quail to the menu when they were bored with manna. The ancient sojourners had no reason to second guess God. God’s trustworthiness, his faithfulness, his dependability, were proven facts. God’s Providence is unfailing.

In contrast to Jewish infidelity, the Gospel accounts of the temptations of Christ which always begin the Lenten season are dramatic testimonies about the fidelity of Jesus Christ to the plan and providence of his Father. For Christ there is no second-guessing. For Christ there is no hesitation. For Christ there are no qualms about the Father’s plan of salvation, about the Father’s personal providence for him, about the wisdom of the Father’s Will in all instances. The sad infidelity of the ancient Jews portrayed in the Book of Deuteronomy is completely reversed by the total fidelity of Jesus Christ who resists the wiles of Satan. It is certainly no accident, then, that Jesus Christ quotes the Book of Deuteronomy as he frustrates the devil during the triple temptations found in this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage.

In St. Luke’s account, Christ is first tempted to trust in himself rather than in God. “Turn these stones into bread.” Christ is urged to take things into his own hands, to forget about God. Christ is then secondly tempted to place his trust in neither himself nor God but in the devil! “All this will be yours if you worship me.” Christ is invited to find happiness in the immediate instead of the eternal. The final temptation makes a fool of God and mocks his providence. “Throw yourself down from here,” the devil suggests from the Temple parapet. “You know God will catch you!” the devil teases. All three temptations strike at Christ’s appreciation of the benevolent, providential, and unfailing Fatherhood of God. He is tempted to trust in God too little; to trust in God not at all; trust in God too much. Three quotes from Deuteronomy answers each of these temptations squarely and assuredly. “Man does not live on bread alone…You shall worship the Lord your God alone…You shall not put God to the test!” These answers are all verbatim quotes from Deuteronomy. Jesus’ Scriptural citations are clear. His ancestors might have underestimated God’s Providence; but Christ himself is certain of God’s Providence. Thus he shows himself to be the authentic Son of God.