Feb 16, 2013

Jesus begins his Lent

". . . and when they were over he was hungry."
1st Sunday of Lent. The Word: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm
 Deut 26: 4- 10
Rm 10: 8-13
Lk 4: 1-13

By abstaining forty long days from earthly food,
he consecrated through his fast
the pattern of our Lenten observance
and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,
taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,
so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,
we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.
(Preface for 1st Sunday of Lent)

The desert experience is a familiar one in the scriptures.  In fact, it seems to also be a familiar one to many parishioners this time of year!  Once the leaves start to turn, the daylight shortens, the clouds open and the rain drops fall with a decidedly colder temperature, I often hear – “Well, Father, see you at Easter” and the caravan down south begins.  For all those who head down to Arizona and California the desert experience of Jesus in today’s Gospel, always a favorite as we begin our Lenten season, is a little more than a get-away time for R and R.

The Gospel of Luke may also be titled the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.  As he begins his public ministry, Luke makes the point of telling us that Jesus’ mission was not something of his own.  Rather as we hear today, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil . . .” (Lk 4: 1). Luke reminds us that the entire ministry of Jesus upon earth was of divine origin; that it was the united work of the Trinity in the cause of our salvation and it is that same Spirit which compels us.

Salvation is a familiar word in our Christian life.  Our first reading from Deuteronomy tells the sweeping story of God’s work among his enslaved people: the Egyptians, the Hebrews as captive slaves, the liberating response of God to their prayers, the call of Moses to lead the people with the “strong hand and outstretched arm” of God through the desert into a land of plenty.  It is a time to give thanks, Moses reminds the people, for God has saved them.

In a more personal way, we now see in Jesus’ desert experience the continued work of God with a new Moses.  Jesus is the One who doesn’t speak on the authority of another as a spokesman but rather one who is that authority himself; it Jesus himself who will become our salvation. But in his humanity we see the overwhelming self-sacrifice on our behalf – one like us who is given for us.

St. Luke in this familiar temptation story of Jesus unfolds a mysterious encounter with the evil one.  Jesus, alone in the desert after his baptism and led there by the Spirit of God now encounters another spirit with opposite intentions.  The grand deceiver, the father of darkness, the embodiment of all that is not of God, approaches Jesus at a time most vulnerable. 

Luke tells us that Jesus was “hungry” after more than a month of fasting and prayer.  It would be an easy line to dismiss – of course he was! But it seems to be Luke’s way of reminding us that this was the human Jesus who was tempted.  That in his humanity, in his hunger, he identified with all of humanity in our weakness and sin. Though Jesus confronted the evil one in the solitude of the desert it was for the collective interest of our salvation that he embraced his mission in the resistance of temptations familiar to us.

The devil appeals to the lowest need that Jesus, and all humankind feels - that of physical hunger.  When he fails in that attempt, Satan’s temptations increase in appeal – the hunger for power and prestige: “I shall give you all this power and glory . . .” When that fails, he dares to confront Jesus in a blatant defiance of God: “. . . throw yourself down from here!” In the end, all three temptations are about self as the center rather than the call to mission on behalf of the other.  “Jesus, abandon your mission and enjoy the comfort of earthly power and influence!” Think of the “me” and forget about the “you.” We may all hear a familiar ring in this temptation sequence about our own struggle to carry out our baptismal mission in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Temptation is both subtle and sometimes overt but in the end it seems to carry a consistent theme: to put the me before the you. We are often tempted think of our own self-interests before we think of the other.  So it was for Jesus in the desert and so it is for us today. How many multiple applications can we all find in this area?

In our present culture with its strong emphasis on the individual the greatest temptation, it seems to me, is that of self-promotion. While finding one’s way and making our mark in the world is not necessarily a wrong direction, the temptation is to do so without regard for others - To sacrifice principle for popularity or morality for convenience. To insist on “my way” or “my rights” or to justify “my lifestyle” as long as I don’t hurt anyone. To sacrifice the common good of all for the sake of personal interests and desires.

As we journey through this Lenten desert time it is for us a challenge to confront our own humanity. Is my mission a series of self-promoting insistence on my own way with things? Have there been moments when I’ve sacrificed the common good of others for the sake of my personal needs?

The ancient Jewish people, and the same today, see themselves with a collective vision and the individual is a part of the whole.  As the chosen people, our “elder brothers” as the late Pope John Paul II referred to them, might their collective identity be a lesson for us?

We are the People of God with a vision of Christianity that is broad and inclusive.  As Catholics we see ourselves as members of this vast and inclusive family. Can I see myself as a supportive, humble, servant or as one whose own opinion about things demands constant attention about the way things should be?

In this desert Lent, it is the Lord Jesus who leads us as the new Moses but greater than Moses for in Christ Jesus we find our collective identity called away from the temptations of “me” and sent on mission in Jesus’ name for the sake of the other. 

Here at Word and Sacrament we gather as that people on this common journey to be fed by Christ himself.