Lectionary Commentaries for March 6, 2022
First Sunday in Lent

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 4:1-13

Jeremy L. Williams

As Christians begin Lent, Luke 4:1-13 reminds us of the premise and power of following the Spirit in the wilderness for a forty-day journey. An aspect of this passage that has always struck me is what (or better who) led Jesus into the wilderness. It is the Spirit. 

That, at first, could seem strange. One could wonder why the Spirit would fill Jesus and lead him into the wilderness. That is where he, under duress, would be tempted by the Diabolic One (ho diabolos). Yet, in Luke and its companion volume, Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit fills people and leads them into trials, uncertainties, and wildernesses. For example, in Luke 1:41, John the Baptist in the womb of his mother Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. By Luke 3, John is in the wilderness critiquing Roman tax-collectors, military personnel, and Herod. His critique gets him prosecuted. In Luke 4, the Spirit that had filled John and overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35) descended on Jesus (Luke 3:22), and now it leads him into the wilderness. 

By the time Jesus leaves the wilderness, he returns to Galilee in the power (dunamis) of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). In Jesus’ exchange with the Diabolic One, we can glean how he navigates the wilderness successfully and with true power. Each of the three trials that the Diabolic One presents raises a question about power: Jesus’, the Diabolic One’s, and ultimately God’s. 

Confidently meandering with the Spirit: Jesus’ power (Luke 4:1-4)

In the first of the Diabolic One’s three trials, he asserts to Jesus that if he is the Son of God, he should transform a stone into bread. The Diabolic One, the consummate trickster, takes advantage of Jesus’ hunger. He provokes Jesus to summon divine authority for his personal cravings. After all, that is what emperors like Augustus or his adopted son Tiberius, named in Luke 3:1, would do. They too claimed to be the son of god. Such a claim granted them authority and access to whatever resources they desired. They could demand grain from Egypt or extract taxes from their provinces through military might. Their words carried the power of life and death over their subjects. Hence, if they had the power to transform a stone into bread to satiate their hunger, they would. But Jesus is not that kind of self-serving son of God.

Jesus responds by quoting the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:3)—the law of the God of Israel—essentially stating that a human’s life is more than its cravings. Jesus quotes the Torah to assert that humans are not solely responsible for their own well-being. Humans should lean into the Spirit’s leading—even in uncertain circumstances. They should learn from the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. During those uncertain times, their lack did not hinder God’s provision. Not knowing what came next unlocked God’s “what is this?” (manna; Exodus 16) that nourished them for forty years. The Spirit, like the pillar of cloud and fire, leads to God’s uncommon provision. This aligns with what Jesus would say later in Luke 12:15 that “life is more than an abundance of possessions.” Jesus’ power was rooted in confidently following the Spirit into the unknown.

Correcting miscalculated solutions: The Diabolic One’s power (Luke 4:5-8)

In the second of the Diabolic One’s trials, he claims that he can give Jesus authority (exousia) and fame (doxa) over the kingdoms of the inhabited world (oikoumenē). Another way to translate oikoumenē is Roman Empire. The Diabolic One offers Jesus prestige within the empire that John the Baptist critiqued. His requirement is that Jesus worship him. The Diabolic One exaggerates his power and Jesus calls his bluff through quoting the Torah again. Jesus asserts that the Lord (kurios) is the only one to be worshipped (Deuteronomy 6:13). 

Many debate what Luke means by the Diabolic One having received the kingdoms and whether such a statement is true. Even if it is true, these kingdoms that he has been given ultimately belong to the Lord, the Owner or kurios of everything. This is true even under the Roman Empire, where the emperor was celebrated as the lord. 

Jesus declares that the power that the Diabolic One and the emperor think they have is limited. Their fame and authority are not priorities for Jesus, because he answers to a higher authority. Jesus recognizes that if attaining fame requires becoming a servant to the Diabolic One, the cost is too high. If pursuing prestige requires ignoring the eternal Owner of all, then that prominence will last as long as the instant (stigmē) in which the Diabolic One showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the Roman Empire (Luke 4:5). Jesus rejects the Diabolic One’s offer, because the Diabolic One has miscalculated his power and does not recognize that there is no price on Jesus’ loyalty.

Countering misuse of Scripture: God’s power (Luke 4:9-13)

The Diabolic One in his third trial quotes passages from the Psalms. Perhaps this is his response to Jesus quoting from the Hebrew Bible to counter his earlier propositions. The Diabolic One weaves together two psalms to convince Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the Jerusalem Temple. He suggests that God’s angels would protect Jesus from harm. Jesus counters him again with a passage from the Torah. The passage from Deuteronomy 6:16 that he quotes recalls when Yahweh provided water from a rock for the complaining Israelites. They had angered Yahweh (the Owner, the Lord, kurios) because according to Exodus 17:7 at Massah they queried “Is Yahweh among us or not?” 

Hence, in this trial the Diabolic One attempts to get Jesus to put God on trial. Jesus’ response insinuates that the Scriptures should not be used to cast doubt on God’s presence with God’s people. They should not be used for a game of “gotcha” nor should they be recited to serve selfish interests. Instead, the Scriptures are reminders of God’s powerful presence with God’s people even in the wilderness. There the Spirit leads them to resist the allures of the Diabolic One and empire.

Further Reading:

  1. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, “Luke,” in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary ed. Brian Blount et. al. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007).
  2. Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997).
  3. Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003).
  4. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991). 

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Justin Michael Reed

This lectionary reading shows how the people of God understand their identity as a perpetual journey. 

The people’s journey has roots in God saving them from slavery in Egypt. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, they journeyed through the wilderness and faced such great hardships that, at times, they imagined life was better when they were still enslaved (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4–5). The book of Deuteronomy provides what appears to be a final stage in their journey; Moses gives a (very long) final speech while they stand on the cusp of arriving in the promised land. 

But the journeying will not end there. We know that the people will continue to face a difficult journey in the books of Joshua and Judges where they fight to conquer the native people who are protecting their homeland from these Israelite invaders. We know that the journey continues in personal sagas with migrants like Ruth and Naomi who depend on one another as they seek companionship, food, and security amidst the harsh vicissitudes of life. We also know that the journey will continue on a much larger scale with examples like the traumatic exile of the northern tribes kicked out by the Assyrians and the southern tribe expelled by the Babylonians.

These difficult journeys started before Deuteronomy 26, and they will continue after it. It seems that migration—arduous sojourning—has always been, and will always be, a part of the people’s identity. Therefore, this lectionary reading invites the audience to partake in a journey that is both a ritual and a remembrance of the significance of migration to who they are as a people.

Deuteronomy 26 does not end the book of Deuteronomy, but many scholars see it as the end of a section within the book that we refer to as “the Deuteronomic Code.” From Deuteronomy 12 to 26, there are instructions and laws that concern a host of matters. Deuteronomy 26 is an example of a religious ritual and a pilgrimage similar to the festivals of Pesach (the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles) all mentioned in chapter 16. In each of these cases, there is an appointed time of the year for celebration, the celebration includes an offering, and the people are called to journey—to go on a pilgrimage—to “the place the LORD will choose” for God’s name to rest. Why is the pilgrimage in Deuteronomy 26 not included in chapter 16? Why does it come at the end of the Deuteronomic Code?

One thing that sets our lectionary reading apart from the other examples of ritual and pilgrimage is that Deuteronomy 26:5–10 presents a liturgy for the people to recite. In the mid-twentieth century, a famous Old Testament scholar, Gerhard Von Rad, developed an idea about these verses that became popular in biblical studies; he hypothesized that this recitation was a “short historical creed,” a confession of faith that was recited early in ancient Israel and developed into more extended stories in the Bible. More recent scholars have pushed back on Von Rad’s theory in many ways including the fact that the so-called “creed” was early—it might have been a very late creation that summarizes the people’s traditions. Regardless of whether these verses were an early or late composition, it is clear that our lectionary reading encapsulates central elements of how these people understood themselves and their relationship with God. What are some of those elements?

One of those elements is a memory of shared trauma. At a time of celebration—when people are called to rejoice at the blessing of another year’s harvest—there is a remembrance of slavery in Egypt. The pilgrim is not just recalling that it happened, but how hard it was: they “treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,” and we went through “our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Deuteronomy 26:6–7). The speaker can appreciate the great benefits of their current circumstance by unflinching recollection of the difficulties endured by their ancestors.

An unforgettable element of this recitation is the role of God in their salvation and blessings. God is the one who hears their cry, acts to save them, and ensures their arrival in “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:7–9). Since God played such a central role, it is only right to show reverence and celebrate God. Of course, all memory is selective. This recitation does not call upon the people to proclaim a history of their ungratefulness and times when God retaliated against them or wanted to abandon them (Exodus 16:2–3; 32:7–9; Numbers 11:18–20, 33). However, it is important to note that this selective recollection is not part of a program of erasing the turbulence of their relationship with God—those details are preserved elsewhere in Deuteronomy (1:26–46; 9:7–29)—but rather a way to emphasize the core of God’s nature. Although God may be many things in many circumstances, this creed highlights God as the God of liberation.

And finally, all of this is framed as a journey. They journey to a specific site (Deuteronomy 26:2) where they remember their forefather as a vagabond (Deuteronomy 26:5).1 Furthermore, they emphasize that journeying to Egypt is what transformed a family into a people (Deuteronomy 26:9), and the journeys that they now take will always carry relics of the travels of their ancestors. 

Thus, the people who articulate their identity through this creed are not just establishing who they are based on the past they have endured and God’s salvific role in their journey. Instead, they are also developing that journey’s relevance for their current engagement with the world. In part, the relevance includes giving thanks to God. But it is also much more. The lectionary passage ends by connecting this journeying to care for the Levites and immigrants (Deuteronomy 26:11). Verses 12 to 13 add providing for orphans and widows as proof of faithfulness to God. This passage shows thankfulness to God and care for the marginalized as the intertwined outcomes of their ongoing journey as a people.


  1. The Hebrew ‘arami ‘obed is often translated as “wandering Aramean” but the word for “wandering” also means “perishing” in certain contexts like how a wandering sheep is in danger of dying.


Commentary on Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Bobby Morris

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously asserted his firm belief that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Those were words that the United States needed to hear in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While fear sometimes emerges from perceived threats, it emerges also from real, even dire threats to mind, body, or spirit. In either case, fear is a force to be reckoned with—and reckon with it we must, because not doing so brings harm of its own. “You gotta have a place where you process your fears, because if you don’t process your fears, they will devour you [and] they will immobilize you.”1

That Scripture is and can help form just such a place is nowhere more evident than with the Psalms. As displayed by Psalm 91, these texts conjoin a relentless realism with bold hope and confidence that speaks directly to those things that would generate fear.

As we begin Lent, the season encourages us to slow our pace so that we can take stock and reflect upon our faith and life. These disciplined weeks should include a reflection upon, a processing of, those things that cause us fear. And in this task, it is very important to be specific—to name those things that cause fear. For this reason, the following commentary is written with the whole of Psalm 91 in mind.

Verses 3-8 have the courage to specifically identify by name those things that cause fear, such as the “snare of the fowler” and “deadly pestilence.”2 Such specificity is crucial. Sources of fear that remain in the shadows of ambiguity are difficult to process. But calling them into the light with the particularity of a name reduces their power to devour and immobilize.

Psalm 91 has no superscription as do many psalms and does not fit neatly into any typical form-critical category. Still, the overall structure provides further guidance for processing fear. Careful examination shows that there are three speakers, or alternatively, three participants in this psalm. In verses 1 and 3-13 we hear from the poet, addressing the one who is in need of reassurance in the face of fear. In verse 2, there are the words of the one needing reassurance, or at least the words the poet hopes to empower and evoke in the person. And in verses 14-16, we find a somewhat surprising third participant—God, speaking very directly with multiple first person verbs.

Walter Brueggemann has frequently commented on the dialogical nature of the psalms.3 Rarely does the psalter exhibit extended one-way speech, but rather far more often is characterized by some kind of dialogue. In other words, the psalms do not emerge from and are not intended strictly for isolated, quiet pondering. Instead, they are bound up in the setting of conversation. This is most certainly true for the processing of fear. It is not something that can be readily accomplished  alone, but requires conversational accompaniment—with those around us who may have some familiarity with some of our fears, and with the one who knows all our fears. We have all three parties present in Psalm 91.

This psalm also demonstrates that processing fear can include retreat to a safe space. “The shelter of the Most High” and the “shadow of the Almighty” (verse 1) and references to God as “my refuge” and “my fortress” (verse 2) speak very reassuringly of such a place. Much like the words of FDR, sometimes pullback to a safe place is the thing that is needed. Yet, the processing of fear cannot turn a safe place into an indefinite hiding place. And so, Brueggemann sees in Psalm 91 not only the comfort of safe space, but also the reassurance of safe journey.4 God’s protection is not restricted only to certain spaces, but travels with us—an “escort who makes safe passage possible.”5 Although we all travel along roads where we are bound to encounter the forces of evil, “The Lord will guard you in all your ways” (verse 11).

Psalm 91 provides a resilient source of hope and confidence in the processing of our fears. In fact, some of its words can lead us to believe that we are being promised a fail-safe shield against anything that would cause fear. “No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent” (verse 10). “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone” (verse 12). However, the psalm as a whole does not make such a promise. Indeed, processing fear does not include the notion that we will never again encounter anything that causes fear.

The power of this psalm lies not in the notion of a magic trick that makes all things that might cause fear to vanish, but rather in the notion of companions in our processing, and most especially, a God who prevents those things from having dominion over us. In the midst of all the first person commitments made by God in the last verses, there is no promise to ensure that we avoid anything that would cause fear. Instead, what God does promise is, from the midst of such things, to “answer,” “be with,” “protect,” and “deliver” (verse 14). The reassurance we have spoken directly from God as this psalm concludes is that “[T]he world itself may not be any safer, but our place in it is more secure, our movement through it more certain.”6


  1. Walter Brueggemann, “Why the Old Testament Must Not Go Away.” Sept 22, 2014 Freitheim Lecture at Luther Seminary, quote taken from Q & A after lecture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E8OYS8fcas&t=1079s
  2. References are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  3. E.g. Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit, 2nd Edition (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2007).
  4. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 156.
  5. Brueggemann, 1984, 157.
  6. A citation attributed to John Calvin in: Ellen Davis, Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2001), 4.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 10:8b-13

Holly Hearon

When Jesus goes into the desert for forty days and nights, he comes face-to-face with the tempter who asks him three questions. Each question challenges Jesus to prove his identity (“If you are the Son of God” … ) by using the power that comes with that identity in a self-serving way (for example, assuage his hunger by turning stones into bread). As we enter the period of Lent, we, like Jesus, are invited to reflect on questions of identity: who/whose we are and how we live authentically into that identity. Romans 10:8b-13 offer a fruitful meditation on these questions. 

Paul’s Poetry

While these verses can be heard as prescriptive, they are more nearly poetical. Three quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures create a framework for the passage: verse 8b (Deuteronomy 30:14), verse 11 (Isaiah 28:16, modified; see also Romans 9:33), and verse 13 (Joel 3:5). Paul then creates links between each Scripture and his own words through the repetition of words. In verses 9-10 he repeats the language of “lips/mouth” and “heart” that appear in verse 8b. Notice, also, the parallel construction in verses 9-10:

Verse 9:

A  If you confess with your lips
B  and  believe in your heart
C  you will be saved

Verse 10:

B’  one who believes with the heart
A’  and confesses with the mouth
C’  is saved

Verses 9-10 anticipates the quote from Isaiah 28:16 in verse 11 with the repetition of the word “believe;” verses 12-13 are linked together by the repetition of the language “to call upon.” Finally, verse 13 hearkens back to verses 9-10 with the use of the word “save.” In other words, these verses are meant to be evocative, inspirational, and uplifting. 

Who/Whose are We?

If we approach these verses through the lens of the question “who/whose are we?” we find at least three different responses to the question. Verse 8b suggests that we are people to whom the word has come near, who have heard the word proclaimed. This is something we may not often think about, but it can be insightful: 

  • How might we summarize “the word of faith” that we have heard proclaimed? For some, this might be shaped by denominational affiliation; for others, by a personal response. 
  • In what way does the word draw near to us? As a spoken word? A written word? A visual image? A ritual? An action undertaken by another that we witness?  
  • What makes us receptive to the word? How might context play a role?
  • How do our responses to these questions inform what we would answer in response to the question “who/whose are we?”

Living Authentically into Our Identity

Verses 9-10 turn our reflection on the question “who are we?” in a little different direction. The emphasis here is not on what we have heard, but on what we do with what we have heard. It is worth pausing to take a closer look at four words: 

  • The first is “heart” (kardia). We often think of the heart as the seat of emotions, but in Koine Greek it refers to the “seat of physical, spiritual, and mental life” (Danker, p. 508); in short, the whole, integrated self.
  • The second word is “believe” (pisteuō). This is the verb, not the noun; it refers to an action rather than a statement. It is what we do with our hearts. Inherent in the verb “believe” is the notion of “trust.”
  • The third word is “mouth” (stoma). The mouth stands for the means by which we communicate. There are, of course, many ways to communicate: with our hands, with our faces, in writing. Key here is that we engage other people with some kind of speech act, giving outward expression to something in our hearts.
  • The fourth and final word is “confess” (homologeō). We may associate this word with confession of sin or wrongdoing, but it also has distinctly positive angles: to acknowledge something publicly; to be of a common mind; or to commit oneself to doing something for the benefit of someone else (Danker, p. 708).   

These verses offer a different way of thinking about how we might answer the question, “Who/Whose are we?” by moving more in the direction of how we authentically live into that identity:

  • How do we demonstrate that we have entrusted our whole being to God? 
  • How does having confidence that God raised Jesus from the dead shape the way we live now?
  • How do our speech acts offer evidence that we have entrusted our whole being to God?  
  • What are the different ways that we confess and what is it that we confess? 

All Who Call on God’s Name

Verse 12 invites yet another line of inquiry. Paul proclaims that there is no distinction between Jew (heirs of Abraham) and Greek (Gentiles): God is generous to all who call on God’s name. Although the terms “Jew and Gentile” may not resonate with our settings, Paul’s language echoes the kind of divisions we create among those who call on God. This too has a bearing on the question of identity and how we live authentically into that identity.

  • To use the language of Paul, would we be more likely to identify ourselves as Jews or as Greeks? Why?
  • When we think of the “people of God” whom do we include in that group? What do these people look like? Do they all look like us? In what ways? In what ways do they look different from us?
  • Are there ways that we draw distinctions among those who “call on the name of God”? What do we gain by making such distinctions? What do we lose?
  • How do our responses inform our understanding of who/whose we are and what it means to live authentically and faithfully into our identity?