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
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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