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Ash and Oil: March 4

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.' Jesus answered him, 'It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’'"  (Luke 4:1-4)

One of my friends from seminary did a project for a course: he memorized Luke 4 and, instead of reading it when he preached, he recited it for the congregation. But when he recited it he didn’t stop with “One does not live by bread alone.” My friend decided to keep quoting this passage from Deuteronomy that Jesus is calling to mind here. And it changed the way I understand these verses.

Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 8, which goes on to paint this picture of what God wants for us: “the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you…”

When my friend kept quoting from Deuteronomy that day, it suddenly became clear to me that Jesus wasn’t saying what I had always assumed he was saying: that there are “physical” needs (bread) and there are “spiritual” needs (the Word of God), and one is more important than the other. In fact, what Jesus is reminding the devil of (and himself, and us) is that God is the source of the bread. God is the source of the flour. God is the source of the grain, the soil, the water, the ecosystem that it took to get that bread into my stomach. To God, not to me, be the glory.

Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Land, says “at the times when the Israelites felt secure in the land, they found it easy to take the land and the covenant for granted, and to see the land [not as a gift but] as property to be managed.” When creation becomes a commodity to be managed, rather than a gift to stir gratitude, humans tend to “manage the land primarily to benefit [themselves] and the politically powerful, maximizing productivity of the land, and giving no thought to the well-being of the land [or the well-being of] the poor.”

For so many today, this land is anything but “a good land, a land with flowing streams…a land of wheat and barley.” For millions, when the streams flow they flood, washing away topsoil and newly planted crops and leaving their children hungry. For millions, drought keeps anything from growing at all, let alone wheat and barley, causing years of chronic hunger. For millions, the stones of iron and hills of copper have been ravaged by the opportunistic, robbed from the poor by the schemes of the rich. There are millions who feel anything but “secure in the land.”

I think we are called to honor the God who wishes for everyone to flourish, who wishes that the banquet feast be enough for everyone to “eat their fill.” I think we are called to live simply and thankfully, refusing to hoard and scheme and “create our own bread” as if it came from us and not from God. I think we’re called to do that in small ways – like un-learning the habits that cause a fourth of our food in North America to go down the garbage disposal. And I think we’re called to do that in big ways – like encouraging our governments to bring more and better aid to the millions who go hungry on this earth we share.

I didn’t earn the right to “eat my fill,” though I do it three times a day. No more than the child who doesn’t know what “eating his fill” feels like has earned his life of hunger. God desires for both of us to live in a good land. I think, during this season of Lent, God wants me to remember that – and do something to help make it happen.

Pray: Loving God, may we remember that you are a good God, a God who desires for all to be fed. May we have eyes to see the ways we are laying claim to what is not ours, dishonoring you by believing we can create our own way in this world. In our relying on you, may we do what you call us to do: protect the poor, share with the hungry, advance the cause of justice. Amen.

Take the next step: If you didn’t on February 23, check out the new Climate Conversation: Kenya video series. Watch the trailer and think about our Kenyan brothers and sisters who are feeling less and less “secure in the land”. Consider sharing the trailer on Facebook or Twitter for others to engage.

[Image: Flickr user Gerda]

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