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a writing that describes the life of Jesus

Friday, January 29, 2010

deuteronomy by heart

Jan Luyken, from The Bowyer Bible

It strikes me that, while Jesus was in the desert, he had Deuteronomy on his mind. The devil quotes Psalms, but Jesus recalls Deuteronomy.

I suspect he had it by heart. I doubt whether he took a scroll with him into the wilderness. I've heard it said that Jewish children of Jesus' day memorized vast swaths of scripture.

I wouldn't have thought to pick Deuteronomy. Genesis, Exodus are great, but don't most people bail at that point? After those two don't things bog down? Endless pages of arcane rules, genealogy, record keeping.

Deuteronomy. A book of the Law. Not the way I'm inclined, having grown up Lutheran: we're Gospel all the way. But Jesus obviously found it helpful.

He quotes Deuteronomy Chapter 6 twice in his dialogue with the devil, so I look it up. And there it is, just before the part Jesus quotes: The Shamah. The holiest text of the Hebrew nation. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Followed immediately with Jesus' Great Commandment: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Which is followed in turn by the Crosby, Stills and Nash injunction: "Teach your children these things. You who are on the road." Which is probably why Jesus learned Deuteronomy 6 by heart: Mary and Joseph made him. "It says memorize: might as well start here."

More likely, nothing so casual. I wouldn't be surprised if a Jewish child learned the Shamah before anything else. The way a Christian kid learns John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son..." When I really dug in on Biblical studies myself, in my twenties, I took Greek so I could study the New Testament: our professor had us memorize John 3:16, and it's all the Greek that sticks with me three decades later: "Houtos gar eigapeison ho theos ton kosmon..."

When I'm starved and in the wilderness, that's probably what I'll hold on to.

If I'm forty days without food, what I'm probably thinking about even more than John 3:16 or Deuteronomy anything is food. In the desert, Jesus thinks about Moses, how God sent them manna every morning. So when the devil sees Jesus hungry, that's where he starts in on him. Only with his mind on Deuteronomy, Jesus has it fresh in mind: when it talks about the desert, when he talks about manna, that's just a set up for God going one step further: all of that was just "to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."

How frightening was the wilderness? How dangerous? Lions, cobras, serpents? So how much did Jesus lean on the Psalms, especially the reassuring ones? Like Psalm 91: fortress, refuge, shield, rampart, no fear, dwelling. No harm, no disaster. All that. So the devil brings it up. And Jesus shoots it down: stern Deuteronomy trumps the comforting psalm. (I wonder if Jesus pointed out to Satan that he stopped quoting just before the part in the psalm about treading on the serpent? A little close to home, remembering the Garden and all that.)

And then Satan grossly overplays his hand. The teleporting, the Google Earth views, and the straight up, mask off craving revealed: "Bow down and worship me." What was he thinking? With Deuteronomy 6 fresh in Jesus' mind? And Jesus, who so far just resisted, now insists. Commands. Names the guy, who before he maybe didn't entirely recognize? "Away from me, Satan."

Words Jesus will say again, more or less, about twelve chapters from now, when he'll get another glimpse of the tempter. "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." [Matthew 16:21-23]

And the devil left, as he had to, just like the demons always left when Jesus told them.

Then, unbidden, the angels came, whose help Jesus refused to command. Bringing the bread Jesus refused to order. Sometimes even when we don't ask, it shall be given.

Bernardino Passeri, from the Bowyer Bible

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Ron. And well-caught regarding Satan stopping short of "the Psalm 91 bit about the serpent". Whenever I encounter that imagery in scripture now, I can't not think about Mel Gibson's visceral (but subtle, thankfully) interpretation of that scene at the beginning of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Hands down my favorite scene in that film.