1st Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2022
A parishioner asked her neighbor’s little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she wanted to be Prime Minister someday.
Both of her parents, who were members of the NDP, were standing there, so I asked her, ‘If you were Prime Minister, what would be the first thing you would do?’ The little girl replied, ‘I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people in Canada.’ Her parents beamed with pride.
‘Wow…what a worthy goal.’ I told her, ‘But you don’t have to wait until you’re Prime Minister to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and tidy up my yard, and I’ll pay you $50 every time you come over. Then, I’ll take you over to the grocery store where a homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 you earned for him to use toward food and a new house.’
The little girl thought it over for a few seconds, then looked me, straight in the eyes, and asked, ‘Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work at your home, and you can just pay him the $50?’
The parishioner replied, ‘Welcome to the Conservative Party”
Since then, the parishioner said the little girl’s parents are never allowing her to speak to her again! (from Upjoke.com)
The parishioner thought she could tempt the girl, who had good intentions of helping the poor, by paying her fifty dollars to get rid of the weeds in her yard. Today, the devil is the weed, the source of temptation, the one who would try to prevent the voice of the Holy Spirit from living and acting and speaking through Jesus, the one who would try to keep Jesus from doing what his Father sent him on earth to do.
At the outset, we can say that the reason the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for forty days was to allow Jesus to confront the demonic obstacles that he might one day encounter, that might try to side-track him from the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, once he began his public ministry. It was a way for Jesus to prepare ahead of time too, for the resistance he would invariably encounter, in some, to his Good News. It was a way as well, to enable Jesus to remain focussed and firm in his commitment to his accomplishing His Father’s Will, without the ordinary distractions of everyday life, getting in the way. Those are some of the reasons going on retreat is a great spiritual exercise that all of us should commit to doing, at least once a year, as well. —Because when we’re on retreat, we re-create the desert experience. We take ourselves out of our ordinary environment with all their distractions. We make ourselves completely open and vulnerable to God and open to recognizing those sinful parts of ourselves that need God’s grace for healing and transformation.
What are the tools Jesus would need to overcome his temptations? First, he’d need the pervasive presence of the Holy Spirit in his heart, mind and soul throughout the forty days. Scripture indeed records that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he returned from the Jordan. It’s that powerful presence of the Holy Spirit which would help Jesus to bring forth the Word of God as his defensive weapon to withstand the temptations of the devil.
The first temptation the Devil uses is Jesus’ hunger. There’s not a lot to eat out in the desert! The weeds that grow there make it even more difficult for edible plants to grow. Since Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, his human nature must have been hungry. And so, the Devil appeals to the basest of human longings — for food— in an attempt to get him to use his divine power to turn stone into bread. But Jesus knows that there’s value in being hungry. When our physical selves are weakened, we become more conscious of our spiritual selves. When our physical selves are threatened with death, it’s then that our spiritual selves step up to remind us that there’s more to life that this earthly plane of existence. When our physical selves are weakened, we often are prompted to re-prioritize what’s essential in life and get rid of all the superfluous distractions that can often impede our progress in the spiritual life. It’s for these very reasons that fasting is still encouraged, especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat on other Fridays during Lent.
The second temptation the Devil presents to Jesus is to be a king, and to have all the glory and authority associated with the kingdoms on earth. But there’s a catch! To have this glory and authority, the Devil wants Jesus to worship him. But Jesus isn’t about to worship anyone less than God. And he’s not about establishing a territorial kingdom akin to those that exist among nations either. Jesus isn’t about forcing anyone to bow down and demonstrate obeisance to his authority over them. No, Jesus has a more transcendent, godly vision of the Kingdom where people, of their own free will, choose to allow God to be their sovereign Lord. And so he combats the Devil’s temptation with a verse of scripture, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Lk 4: 8) Wouldn’t our world be a better place today, if all the leaders of nations took this verse to heart and made Jesus’ vision of leadership their own, and saw their positions of power as essentially ones of service to those who have no power?!
Defeated twice, the Devil now changes tactics. This time, he appeals to Jesus’ divinity by quoting a verse of scripture, assuring Jesus that he won’t be harmed if he were to throw himself off of the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple. But Jesus replies to this cunning move by citing a different verse of scripture: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Lk 4: 12)
Notice that each and every time that the Devil attempts to get Jesus to swerve from his saving mission, the Holy Spirit inspires Jesus to proclaim the Word of God that has the strength to defeat the enemy’s temptations and to keep him faithful to his mission. We, ourselves, need to learn from Jesus’ example. We should never try to tempt God to do our will. Instead, we should recall the words of the “Our Father” — THY kingdom come, THY will be done one earth as it is in heaven. We should never try to put ourselves in the place of God by making up our own moral code and make ourselves the arbitrator of who’s invited to be a member of God’s kingdom and who’s not. We need to rely on the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, given to us at baptism, and sealed at our confirmation, to inspire us to make the Word of God an integral part of ourselves and to allow that Word to come out of us when we need its strength, guidance and inspiration the most. The only way to do that is to imbibe every day of the Word of God. Allow it to soak into our consciousness and to become a part of our every thought process! The only way to allow that to happen is to have some quiet time to allow God to enter us through his Holy Word.
The last verse of today’s gospel passage is also worth noting. Luke records, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him, UNTIL AN OPPORTUNE TIME.” (Lk 4: 13) You see, even though Jesus withstood the temptations of the devil in the desert, that doesn’t mean the devil would never try to tempt him again. The devil, like a weed, continually looks for the places that he can creep in and gain a foot hold. He looks for ways to smite the life of the Spirit inside us by getting us to sin, and to prevent us from absorbing the Word of God into our hearts, minds, and souls. The Devil looks for our weaknesses and then cunningly tries to use them against us, so that we fall out of grace and walk, ever so proudly, on the path that leads to destruction and sin. Like Jesus, we must never let our guard down, but always be vigilant, and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to fashion us into faithful servants of the Most High God and fervent disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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