Mar 8, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent - Our desert

(Ivan Kramskoi)
". . . and afterwards he was hungry . . ."

Gn 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7
Rm 5: 12-19
Mt 4: 1-11

Now and then we all have days in which something just doesn’t go right.  In fact, it may be a series of events that just seem to snowball one after the other which causes us frustration and disappointment until they finally even out.  So often in ministry we find that interruptions are the norm rather than the exception.  One works hard at certain arrangements and in the end you find that “plan B” is necessary.  It may be something small like a glitch in the sound system or a scheduled person who cannot show up at the last minute or something far more serious that may cause you to cancel an event all together.

As we begin this First Sunday of Lent we hear a well-known story from Genesis that indeed something went wrong with humanity not long after God created us.  Things did not work out as originally planned. God “blew into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life . . .” God then created Eve and set these two first human beings in a Garden, rich with beautiful trees and abundant fruit.  Then, the snake appears and both man and woman believe the serpent’s lie and take to themselves their own will over that of God.  That original sin of disobedience which caused shame and guilt to enter, exhibited by the embarrassment of their nakedness, now needed to be corrected. A savior would need to obey – a new Adam must come for we could not save ourselves from our own sin. 
St. Paul in Romans reminds us that through one man (Christ Jesus), “the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”  Through Christ Jesus, “the many will be made righteous.” So, rather than a garden, a desert would be the place to confront evil and its source again.

St. Matthew’s Gospel passage is rich with drama as we see Jesus, “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”  Here our new Adam must now face the sin of all humanity which he had taken upon himself.  In the most vulnerable time of his desert experience, the tempter approaches for after forty days and nights of fasting, Jesus “was hungry.”  We could assume he was weak and thirsty as well.  In his weakness, the devil approached and near slithers up to Jesus like the serpent in the garden.
As the first sin was the result of food, so now the first temptation addresses physical hunger: “. . . command these stones become loaves of bread.” Unsuccessful, the tempter moves to the human desire for self-rule: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” God will catch you.  Lastly, the final temptation confronts our hunger for pride, power, and prestige.  As Jesus is shown “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,” he demands that Jesus bow before the tempter and he can have them all: worldly fame, money, and all the advantage the world can bring.  All three temptations together are essentially a means to grab the easy way, the way of my will above that of God’s and essentially for Jesus to abandon his mission of death and resurrection for which he was sent among us to break through the wall and power of sin (death) which estranged us from God. We all know he did not succumb to the devil’s attempts.

Thereby, Lent is an invitation to find our spiritual desert where we confront the truth of our lives.  Here we may find something that upsets us, something we know has to change, or something for which we are grateful yet still need more help.  Yet, the greatest gift is to know that we are not alone in the desert of isolation because we can and should call upon our Lord to come with us.  To believe that God is greater than our sin and more powerful than the forces of evil around us is to know that his mercy and forgiveness is here to call us to a new direction and a new life.
Whenever the moment arrived and reflecting glass provided a mirror, much better than staring into a pond of water, I wonder what the first reactions were like.  Once we could see ourselves as we are did we like what we saw?  Much more likely we could see the many imperfections – a wrinkle here, a gray hair there, a little too chubby here, a nose or ear not proportioned properly, lips too thin, forehead too wide, etc.  We could all go on and on.  The cosmetic industry spends billions of dollars fixing the outside of us but Lent is not cosmetic surgery. 

In the Lenten desert we should see ourselves as we are and turn to the grace of God to correct the faults of our souls and lead us to holiness and virtue which is true beauty.  May the grace of God lead us to a healing desert in these weeks ahead of us.  The sacraments of Reconciliation and the holy Eucharist are powerful tools provided by Jesus our Divine Physician who showed us how we might be “made righteous” before God in this ancient desert time.

Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,

that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ

and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

(Collect of Mass)