Sunday, February 17, 2013
First Sunday of Lent
Luke 4:1-13 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)1 Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, 2 where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over. 3 The Devil said to him, “If you are God's Son, order this stone to turn into bread.” 4 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, “Human beings cannot live on bread alone.” ” 5 Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. 6 “I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. 7 All this will be yours, then, if you worship me. ” 8 Jesus answered, “The scripture says, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!” ” 9 Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here. 10 For the scripture says, “God will order his angels to take good care of you.” 11 It also says, “They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.” ” 12 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ” 13 When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.
“You are my own dear Son…” (Luke 3:22b). Those were the words pronounced by God the Father in the solemn moment of Jesus’ baptism. Son of God he was in a special way. And, according to the genealogy offered by Luke, he was also “…the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God”. Both dimensions, divine and human, are present in the Chosen One, and both of them have God as their common source. In a subtle, diabolical way Satan keeps them in mind when he comes to tempt Jesus. The approach is an appeal to his self-consciousness and to the words he has heard. There is no invitation to sin or transgression. Not at all. What the Tempter suggests is, in the end, the logical consequence of the first premise: “If you are God’s Son.…” From that starting point, every step the Devil expects Jesus to take is fit for a real “Son of God.” Who can imagine the Messiah starving, or being subjected to any risk or danger, or not being obeyed by the kings and lords of this world? No, of course, none of the things Satan proposes is different from the possibilities a Savior would have at the reach of his hands. The Wise Men, following the soundest reasoning, looked for the King of Israel in the palace of Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-12). A Savior would never be born in a stable (Luke 2:1-20) or let his friend Lazarus die (John 11:17-37); nor would he ignore the fact that the woman anointing his feet was a sinner (Luke 7:36-50) or let his disciples’ boat be tossed by the waves (Matthew 8:23-27); nor would the Saint be condemned as a blasphemous rebel (Mark 14:53-65; Luke 23:1-5) or die as a criminal on a cross (Matthew 27:37-44). If he really is the Son of God, the power and the glory would be the signs of his divine heritage. Later on, all the temptations will be summed up in a single sentence: “Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One” (Luke 23:35). There is no point in insisting on the symbolic or realistic description of this entire episode (forty days, the desert, the biblical quotations). The heart of the story of Jesus’ temptations is quite simple: God’s ways are not our ways; God’s plans have little to do with our reasonable human plans. But, let us be careful: this does not mean our faith is irrational, absurd, or nonsensical. It simply follows a peculiar logic of its own. In its realm, generosity is more important than selfishness; money does not solve all our human problems; pleasure, comfort or riches do not mean happiness; giving one’s own life for others can be meaningful. However, even in our Christian approach to life, we still think that money, power and dominion (even dominion over God himself), are the solutions and the way in which we can promote God’s Kingdom. They are the real temptations we face every day. “If our congregation / denomination / Church could raise more funds, or reach the media to proclaim our message, if we were able to influence politics…our world would be closer to the values and tenets of the Gospel.” Much too often that is the way we reason and the way, I insist, in which we think the Kingdom of God must be announced and made present in our world. That was the deepest temptation to which Jesus was subjected during his whole ministry, the reasonable, good and convenient path Satan invited him to follow. “This, however, is not the way it shall be among you…” (Matthew 20:24-28).
We could make a free version of the first reading, turning the sentence about the “wandering Aramean” into: “My Savior was a man of God, sent to his people; he was tempted in the desert…” This could allow us to feel closer to the human condition of our Lord, whom we tend to place too far from us. Although we said at Christmas that through the Incarnation God accepted and shared our human nature, we still harbor the feeling that Jesus was a man only to a certain extent. But in fact, he felt hunger, was tempted, wept when he visited Lazarus’ tomb, ate and drank with his friends. All those signs should make us feel confident in his mercy and compassion: “Now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered” (Hebrews 2:18). When we are put to the test, when we falter and feel guilty and disappointed because of our weakness and infidelity, do we come to him with confidence, knowing that he understands and forgives? And when we achieve something positive or overcome some hindrance in our religious life, do we admit that the Lord has granted that to us and feel grateful for his gifts?
We should remember that Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, the most joyful celebration in our Christian liturgical year. Even if these weeks entail penance and renouncement, they are not a purely ascetic period. Do not let it become a gloomy season, but pray for all of us who walk in Jesus’ footsteps towards Jerusalem: that we may grow strong in faith to overcome temptation; that we may grow strong in hope to anticipate the joy of the resurrection; that we may grow strong in charity to help one another in our Christian struggle.
Our traditional signs of penance are fasting or abstinence from meat. Think of something more meaningful as a sign of conversion. What about visiting someone who is sick, either at home or in hospital? Or helping an elderly person with his/her domestic chores? There will be a lot of work in your church in preparation for the celebrations of Holy Week. Could you devote some of your time toward these preparations?
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain