In order to read St. Paul, or the Gospels, we need to know that they used rhetorical rules much as we use grammar rules. For the Hebrews and the Greeks, these rules were more detailed. One of these rules was that of πολλῷ μᾶλλον, the rule of “How much more…” Another rule is that of G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of expressions). In this rule, an analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, word or root. Where the same words are applied to two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
The Jewish people have a tradition of not speaking God’s name in deference to it. When they see it written they generally say, “LORD,” or some other word. This translation uses, “The NAME,” because it does not fit properly and therefore shows the same deference while pointing to the personal name of God being the reference.
Here is one example. Matthew 3 has John the Baptist tell the Pharisees: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce beautiful fruit as evidence of your return. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Our Gospel Reading for First Sunday of Lent then tells us: The tempter approached and told him, “If you are the Son of God, Mitzvah that these stones become loaves of bread.” Jesus replied, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth Shefoth of God.”
In Hebrew, Mouth/Shefoth is a pun on Mitzvah, commandment. The key to the passage, however, is the equivalence of expressions. Matthew 3 has John the Baptist comparing stones with the children of Abraham, the Jewish people, and by extension Christians. One chapter later, first Satan, and then Jesus compare these same stones with bread. To use basic algebra, which did exist at the time, if “A” equals “B” and “B” equals “C”, “A” must equal “C”. If the children of Abraham are stones and the stones are bread, the children of Abraham must be the bread.
Matthew presents the Temptation of Jesus as a class on leadership. Jesus tells Satan that true leaders do not live off their people but on the Word of God. The Hebrew word for “A Word” is “Omer.” “Omer,” also means, “A Lamb.” The Hebrew word for a succulent cut of meat and for Gospel is “Bashar.” True leaders live off this Bashar, this Lamb of God, not the people.
For the second temptation, Jesus quotes Psalm 91, which begins, “You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, Say to the NAME, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.” In Jesus’ temptation, the reference is to Jesus as he sets the example. All of his life is one big fight with the established people. Psalm 91:8 tells us, “You need simply watch; the punishment of the Russia/those who think themselves first you will see, because you have the NAME for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold.” Then comes Jesus’ quote, “he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands, they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” There is that stone, children of Abraham, bread again.
The second temptation is to give into all of the Russia, the presence of others who think themselves first, the temptation to think ourselves first. The angels are to be the leaders who will support us, preventing us from striking our feet against stones, each other.
Then comes that third temptation where Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain, a big stone, and shows him all earth’s kingdoms. The section ends with, “It is written: The NAME, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Worship does not mean Mass or Protestant religious liturgy. It is a Germanic word meaning to acknowledge as worthy. True leaders do not push their charges to acknowledge them as worthy. That is for God alone. Leaders lead by example, pointing their charges to God. They point the people’s service to God, not to themselves.
Our first reading quotes Eve as saying, “The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.” This is not what God tells Adam. He tells Adam,The NAME, God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of the satisfying and the rotten. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it, you shall die.”
Eve is not guilty of rebellion. She is guilty of being overly scrupulous. She adds to God’s command, not subtracts from it. She adds the part about touching the tree. From this, we learn not to try to be better than God made us. We are all created equal. Those who think themselves better in Hebrew are called Russia. We translate Russia as wicked.
Likewise, we like to think of ourselves as pious. St. Thomas defines piety as, “It belong to piety, in the second place, to give worship to one’s parents and one’s country. The worship due to our parents includes the worship given to all our kindred.”A nation is a group of people born together, by common heritage, if not blood, or place of birth. Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 101. Being pious means being kind, serving our neighbor, doing the works of mercy.
Sitting in pews may be the source and summit of our faith, but piety is what we do after we say, Mitte Est, depart in peace. Piety is loving and serving God by serving our neighbor.
This brings us back to the rules of rhetoric. This one applies to writing English essays and stories. We write an introduction. For St. Matthew this is the nativity. For St. Mark this is Jesus’ Temptation. St. Matthew gives a mini-thesis statement after he gives his nativity. This is Jesus’ temptation.
Then there is a thesis statement. For St. Matthew and for St. Mark this is, “The devil left him and, behold, angels (Greek for messengers) came and ministered to him.” The body of Matthew and Mark is then the apostles, the messengers, ministering to Jesus in his life on earth. It is a tale of the apostles learning that leadership is not about devouring the people, nor thinking we are better than the people. It is about putting God first and then serving him by ministering to the people.
Psalm 82 gives a similar lesson. “God takes a stand in the divine council, gives judgment in the midst of the gods.” But there is only one god. “How long will you judge unjustly and favor the cause of the Russia, those who think themselves first.” Who does this but secular leadership? “Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and poor; deliver them from the hand of the Russia, those thinking themselves first.” This is a command to whoever the other gods are.
The next verses tell us who the gods are. “The gods neither know nor understand, wandering about in darkness, and all the world’s foundations shake. I declare: “gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you, Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.” The gods are the offspring of the Most High. They are mortal. They are princes. They are the secular leadership. The command is clear. Serve God by serving his subjects, the people.