• Lent 1A (b)

    Posted on February 25, 2017 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

    Temptation: Jesus’ and ours.

    As we begin Lent the Gospel takes us back to the end of
    Jesus’ forty days in the desert.  We are beginning our forty
    days in the desert of Lent (actually there are only 36
    left).  We are presented with the temptations of Jesus.  Are
    these real temptations or are they symbolic?  If real did
    they happen at the beginning of Jesus’ public life or during
    his public life?
    The comparison of Jesus’ temptations with those of the
    Jewish people in the desert cannot be coincidental.  Forty
    years for the Jews in the desert, forty days and forty
    nights for Jesus in the desert.  The quotations that Jesus
    uses to repel the devil are all from the book of
    Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy expands upon the meaning of the
    ten commandments given by God to Moses on Sinai. Even the
    specific temptations have resonances with those of the
    wandering Jews.  First, in the desert God provided Manna and the
    people still complained and wished to return to their
    previous existence.  They were seeking nourishment apart
    from God. Second, the people were testing God for the sake of their
    own self indulgence.  Finally when Moses went up the
    mountain and remained longer than the patience of the people
    allowed, they worshiped a golden calf.  They denied the true
    God to follow false gods.  These resonances would tilt us
    toward a symbolic interpretation.  The Jews were unfaithful,
    Jesus was faithful.
    But the Gospel of John speaks of other temptations of
    Jesus during his life. 1) John 6:26 tells us that Jesus was
    tempted to multiply the loaves.  People came to him looking
    for more wonders, more bread.  They came for the wrong
    reason.  2) Even his disciples called for spectacular signs to
    attract people (John 7:4).  He refused.  Even after Jesus
    multiplied the loaves the people came to make Jesus an
    earthly king (John 6:l5).  Jesus passed through their midst.
    3) Jesus was tempted to be a false Messiah, one of material
    things, the spectacular, earthly power.  He overcame all
    these temptations.  These examples from his life would lean
    us toward interpreting the temptations as being read back
    into the beginning of Jesus’ public life from things that
    took place during his public life.
    It is clear that the desert experience for Jesus is a
    cross roads in his life.  It is a “crisis” time.  The
    Chinese have a symbol for crisis which indicates danger and

    opportunity.  Jesus must choose.  It is a decision time.
    The suggestions of the devil are the popular expectations of
    the Messiah.  This is one road to take.  It is a broad and
    well traveled road. Many of the people of Jesus’ time are
    on that road.  The other road is hardly a road at all.  It
    is untraveled and rocky.  This road means obedience to his
    God.  Jesus will later describe this road as narrow.  He
    will state that he came to serve, not to be served.  This
    road will end on the mountain not of power but the hill of
    Calvary.  Jesus is tested.  He sets his face to the task he
    sees God opening up before him._
    The temptations of Jesus are not ours.  We cannot
    change stone into bread.  I don’t know about you but I’ve
    never met the devil.  Though I have said that the devil made
    me do it.  I’ve never been tempted to throw myself from the
    Sears tower in Chicago or something similar.  But we do have
    the temptations to make the material more important than the
    word of God; to demand of God, rather than ask in humility;
    to worship some kind of false God. For me however the
    greatest temptation is to live the “unexamined life.”  How
    many of us go merrily on our way thinking that all is fine.
    We think we are in a groove.  Others observe us and say we
    are in a rut.  On this First Sunday of Lent we should
    conduct a little examination of conscience.
    l) Am I afflicted with what seems to be a particular
    American malady?  For so many Americans the problem of
    weekends is that they are boring.  We almost don’t seem to
    know what to do with ourselves when we are not at work.  A
    favorite word of many teenagers is “boring”.  But it
    afflicts many people.  If we are bored the problem is within
    us, we are boring, not the world we live in.  We need some
    conversion if we are having boredom problems.
    2) For many of us there is a problem in facing our own
    limitations.  From my own experience can I painfully confess
    that I am truly the child of the couple in the garden?  A
    psychologist, Rollo May, wrote a book, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO
    SIN?  That is a good question for us to ask during this
    Lent.  For the person of the unexamined life, there is no
    sin, but there is also little passion, zest for life,
    enthusiasm, energy, aliveness.  Need for conversion.
    3) For some of us all problems are outside ourselves.  When there are
    difficulties with another person we can lay no claim to owning
    that I may be at fault.  It is always the other persons fault.  Or the other extreme is
    possible in the case of problems with others.  I am always
    the one at fault.  The source of all my problems is within
    me.  Either of these two extremes is wrong.  Life isn’t
    lived that way.  Life’s problems are a mixture of my fault
    and your fault.  A reflex reaction doesn’t fit.  I have to
    examine things.  Either extreme, we need conversion.
    4) Some people live as though people owe them
    something.  I was having difficulty with a particular person
    in a previous parish.  On vacation I was walking the beach
    with my Mom and sister.  I asked, “Have you ever met people
    that feel and act as though you and the world owe them
    something?”  My Mom said, “Yes your brother is a little like
    that.”  I probed to find out why my Mom thought people are
    like that.  She said, “when your brother was young he had
    scarlet fever, we had to give him special attention.  I
    think that some people, when they are sick when they are
    young and get special treatment, think they deserve that
    special treatment for the rest of their lives.”  If that’s
    you you need conversion.
    5) Most of us know somebody who always knows better.
    Did you get a good bargain on something?  They always know a
    better and cheaper place to get something.  Did you find a
    terrific wax for your car?  They know a better one and its
    cheaper too.  Did you have a good vacation?  They had a
    better one.  You get the idea.  If that person is you.  You
    need conversion.
    6) Some people’s basic response to life situations is
    to get angry.  Did you hurt them?  They say, “I don’t need
    you anyway.”  They didn’t get picked for a scholarship.
    “Ah, they are all crooked anyway.”  Their basic response to
    everything is anger.  Usually these people are covering up
    something, probably some vulnerability.  They don’t want to
    be hurt, and they certainly don’t want to let you know they
    are hurt.  So their response is anger.  Conversion is
    7) Or are you a person whose response to hurt is to
    withdraw?  These people get quiet, use few words, speak in
    grunts and groans. “Is something the matter?”  We get a
    muttered no.  They live in this moodiness for hours, days,
    months, years.  They are often times passive aggressive.
    They use silence to punish. Conversion is needed.
    8) Some people want a quick fix, like the snap of the
    finger.  We get conditioned to this by the technical age we
    live in.  Go to McDonalds.  If you have to wait more than a
    short time at the speaker you can hear the engine being
    gunned or the speaker being tapped, or something more
    drastic.  This is supposed to be a fast food restaurant.  We

    live in the age of micro wave ovens, and foods of all sorts
    that can be prepared in minutes.  In many stores the frozen
    food section is bigger than the fresh fruits and vegetables.
    Is something wrong in my life, my work, my relationship?  I
    want it fixed immediately if not sooner.  I want what I
    want, when I want it.  Ah conversion needed.
    9)  We can mention the seven capital sins:  anger,
    pride, envy, avarice (greed), lust, gluttony, sloth
    (laziness).  Recent study of personality types can assist us
    in examining our lives and our sinfulness.  A good Lenten
    practice might be to get one of these two books and do some
    Lenten reading: THE ENNEAGRAM: A JOURNEY OF SELF DISCOVERY, or, PERSONALITY TYPES, USING THE ENNEAGRAM FOR SELF DISCOVERY.  To the seven capital sins, the enneagram adds
    deceit and fear.  In 1992 a Japanese minister accused people
    in the U.S. of being lazy.  A tremendous outcry followed.
    We protested so strongly that we are not lazy.  As
    Shakespeare said, “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.”
    He had touched and named a reality I believe.  Some of us
    are lazy once in a while.  Some of us are lazy most of the
    time.  This isn’t confined to any ethnic group.  We hear so
    much about burn out from overwork but little about what I
    think is a greater problem, Laziness.  It is time to look
    again at the Capital Sins.  We need conversion.

    This examination of conscience is not meant to be
    comprehensive.  You may have recognized something of
    yourself in some of these things, or may not be in any of
    them.  (The danger of recognizing many others and not myself
    is in itself a problem that calls for conversion.)  We all
    need conversion.  On Ash Wednesday we heard, “Come back to
    me with all your heart.”  We must continue to turn our
    hearts and ourselves over to the converting power of God.
    We must decide on a Lenten practice to remind ourselves, I
    am dirt and will return to dirt.  I have a fallible, weak,
    sinful part of me.  Yet God calls me to conversion, to
    journey with him during this Lenten season.  He also
    promises to journey with us.  God can work in our lives as
    truly as he worked in the life of Jesus and the people
    during the time of Jesus.  The danger will be that we will
    come to the end of Lent and say, “You mean Lent is over.
    I’m still exactly the same.  Jesus is risen from the tomb
    and I’m still in it.”  The choice is ours.  Jesus wants us
    to share in the new and grace filled life of Easter.  To move
    from death to life with him, we must make it our concern

    too.  There is nothing magic about Lent or ashes.  They
    don’t work unless we do.

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