1st Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26: 4-10; Romans 10: 8-13; Luke 4:1-13
A friend of mine sent me two pictures of Jesus – both of questionable theology and more than a little irreverent! But being loosely wrapped as
I am, I thought I’d mention them, just the same. The one picture was of Jesus and the devil sitting at a picnic table, arm wrestling – best of three. Keep this image in mind as we ponder this morning’s gospel reading.
There is practically no hiding place or shelter in the desert and the difficulties of the desert make the individual see himself for what he is. Lent is an invitation to us to take the courageous step of going into the desert. Thee we encounter our sin and darkness in the company of Jesus.
We have much to learn about self-sacrificing love from Christ’s wrestling with temptation. Jesus spent forty days in the desert overcoming the devil, and Lent is a time for us to get rid of whatever bit of the devil remains in us by overcoming sin in our lives. Luke’s narration of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert begins by reminding us that it was the Spirit that led Jesus into the desert. That Spirit never left him during his temptations, through his entire ministry, death on the cross and resurrection.
(Round one) When the devil said: “Turn these stones into loaves of bread.” Jesus replied: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This temptation was to distrust the Father’s provident care for him. It is one of the wiles of Satan to take advantage of our outward condition; and those who are brought into straits have need to double their guard. Christ answered the temptation by appealing to the Scriptures. Our Lord expressed his strong faith in the God who led Israel out of the desert. He likewise declared His confidence that God was able to support him, and would do it, though in a wilderness, and destitute of supply. This was how Jesus overcame this temptation of Satan.
This is the method we must use, whenever we are tempted to sin. Let us learn not to take any wrong courses for our supply, when our wants are ever so pressing: in some way or other the Lord will provide. When we live on the bread of the world by not putting God first we can never hope to be happy because sin always leaves us guilty. All of us are called to with the Son in building up the Kingdom of the Father, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents. “Jesus offers Himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in Him leads us today, as in other times, to become apprentices to eternal living” (The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard).
(Round two) When Satan said: “Fall down and worship me.” Jesus replied: “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” This temptation was to worship Satan in exchange for worldly power and influence. The glory of the world is a most charming temptation to the unthinking and unwary. Christ rejected every opportunity of sinful gain or advancement. He was quick and firm in resisting this temptation. If we resist the devil he will flee from us. But the individual who takes time to consider his options is surely overcome. I have a number of alcoholic friends and I can tell when they are in trouble. They use three words: I’ve Been Thinking! We find but few who can reject the tokens Satan offers; yet what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? The philosopher Dallas Willard wrote: “Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction and harmony to every other area of life.” The season of lent reminds us that we did not create the stream. Let us spend the days of lent building up the King of God and not our own.
(Round three) When Satan said: Throw yourself down from the peak of the temple and be rescued by angels.” Christ replied: “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” This temptation was to presume upon the Father’s power and protection, in a point of safety. There are no extremes more dangerous than despair and presumption, especially in the affairs of our souls. Satan has no objection to holy places as the scene of his assaults. Let us never drop our guard. As the Apostle Peter reminds us: “Be alert and vigilant. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour: (1 Pet. 5:8).
Sacred spaces are the places, where Satan often tempts men to pride and presumption. All high places are slippery places; advancements in the world makes a man a mark for Satan to shoot his fiery darts at. Don’t forget: Satan is well versed in Scripture. It is possible for a man to have his head full of Scripture notions, and his mouth full of Scripture expressions, while his heart is full of bitter enmity to God and to all goodness. Satan misquoted the words. If we go out of our way, out of the way of our duty, we forfeit the promise, and put ourselves out of God’s protection. Throughout these days of penance and purification, we are encouraged to come into the presence of the Lord Whose Word is our food for the journey, Whose will is our guide for life and Whose Kingdom is our true homeland. Those who place their faith in God will find themselves wrapped in God’s loving embrace. As we fast, pray and give alms, let us remember that the Living Word is very close to us, in our mouth and in our heart. This Word is not just a sound. This Word is a Life lived in Love.
The common everyday lesson of this story is that from the plain appointed path of duty laid before Christ, no power or temptation could turn him. Every work of Mercy is a work of the hands and feet of Christ in service to the body of Christ. Our job isn’t to move mountains, it’s to offer the Lord our lives and then get out of the way. These are not ways of being messiah as his Father intends. According to the divine plan, the redeemer will redeem by sacrificing his life. And that is the sort of messiah Jesus chooses to be because it conforms to the will of the Father. Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. During Lent we die to ourselves like Jesus so that the Father’s plan can be accomplished in our lives.
You might remember that I mentioned that my heretical friend sent two irreverent Jesus Pictures. Are you ready for this? The second picture shows Jesus rolling up His tee-shirt sleeve to unveil a tattoo. A big heart with FATHER bannered across it. May all we do this lent be stamped with the love of God.