Mar. 9, 2019

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, 2019

Don’t run away, ask for God’s grace!

Readings: 1st- Deut. 26:4-10; 2nd- Rom. 10:8=13; Gospel- Lk. 4:1-13

The Israelites declare their belief in God for saving them. They profess their faith in words and action. Deuteronomy tells us about God’s saving justice and love which makes the Hebrew people declare their faith. God grants them freedom from Egyptian forces, and restores the land flowing with milk and honey. This is met with the credal profession: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Deut. 26:5-7). The important clause in the life of the Israelites is, “the Lord, the God of our fathers.” This continually defined their relationship with God; a friendship of trust and confidence. God is their God because he stood behind their fathers in faithfulness to his commandments. Hence, the reading declares, “I have now brought you the first fruits of the product of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me. And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence.”

This set the tone for the gospel which presents to us the temptations of Jesus by the devil. As soon as Jesus stepped out of the Jordan after his baptism, the devil appeared. Jesus is equipped by the Holy Spirit after his forty days’ desert experience. Don’t forget that Jesus is human, even though He is above all, God. His temptation is real, so also his victory over Satan and his styles.

He was hungry. He would love fame and honor. He would love power. These are the very packages that the devil presents before him. You are hungry, and you are the Son of God. Turn stones into loaves. Perhaps, you will eat, and your followers will also know through it that you have miraculous powers. Jesus responds by letting the devil know that there is a greater food than the physical bread which is his love for the Father. The devil thinks that Jesus will succumb to the allurement of material wealth and fame since he doesn’t succumb to performing magic; “I shall give you all this power and glory…, if you worship me.” Jesus reminds the devil of the superiority of God’s commandment, “Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, Him alone shall you serve.” What a disappointment! The devil thinks this way; if the physical things don’t work, then the spiritual may do the magic. The devil takes Jesus to a high cliff. He recounts the Psalms written about Jesus himself, “He will command his angels concerning you, and with their hands they will support you lest you strike your foot against a stone.” It’s the game of flattering Jesus into greatness. Jesus makes it clear that his glory will come from being lifted up through the Cross and not by mere words of empty praises or promises. Then the devil “departed from him for a time” (Lk. 4:13), just for a time. How smart Mr. Devil could be!

Paul reminds us of the importance of professing our faith with our mouths and believing strongly in our hearts. The credal expression puts us in the direction of hope which Christ’s resurrection offers. We are made victorious through the death and resurrection of Christ. We are not immune from temptation. We are not removed from it either. Right from the time of Adam and Eve, temptation became part of the history of humanity. We belong to the tradition of temptation through Adam, carrying in our bodies, human weakness and brokenness. Adam and Eve fail. They succumbed to temptation. They lost their best and innocent friendship ever. Jesus came, experienced temptation, stood firm, and restored human body to innocence through his cross and resurrection. He cherished his friendship with the Father. As human, Jesus wasn’t immune to temptation either. But his love for God and his desire to live in constant friendship with his Father was key to his victory over temptation. For that reason, Saint Paul urges us, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11). On the contrary, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).

Think about Peter for a second. A clear image of the importance of calling on the name of the Lord is Peter’s experience walking on the water. Walking on the water was like moving on a slippery slope, a dangerous move for Peter. And the Bible tells us, “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord save me!”” (Matt. 14:30). I usually tell my friends to use this mantra each time, they feel overwhelmed, to say it aloud in their head and with their mouth, “Lord, save me!” It is real.

What is not real is to imagine that temptation would disappear or to run away from it. We pray in the Lord’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil.” The Lord will deliver us from evil but won’t put us away from it. The devil goes away only “for a time.” It is by God’s grace, by his power that we overcome.

Sometime, this lady felt strong affection for her male colleague at work. This male colleague also felt similar passion for her, but both wanted to keep their friendship holy and secure. This lady received a message from her boss and had to deliver same to her attractive male colleague. She got to his door and tried to slide the message quietly under the door to avoid seeing him. She slid the letter through the door while this guy was sitting right on his desk. The guy quickly stood up to pick his mail, opened the door, and behold his female colleague squatting beneath his door. He was surprised and asked her why she never knocked to drop his mail for him since he was in. Her response was, “I knew you were in, but I wanted to avoid you.” The question here is, whether that was the best way to avoid him or whether they could struggle to overcome their passion and work in a healthier way.

The truth is that temptation places a bargain for us with what is most precious in our lives. It offers seductive alternatives to true love- food, power, fame, glory. That’s what happened to Adam and Eve. Same happened to Jesus. Adam and Eve succumbed but Jesus stood firm. The Adam in us might want to succumb but the Jesus in us is stronger. Temptations come to us at different moments- family, friendship, work, academics, property, spirituality, sex, and health. Temptations can be overcome by faith in Christ Jesus. Gratitude to God and adoration are what God wants from us. Jesus tells the devil, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Lk. 4:8). And the book of Deuteronomy says, “you shall bow down in his presence” (26:10). Always remember that God is the source of everything about you. He has made you for his glory, so, all glory belongs to him. He keeps watch over you once you keep dwelling in the shelter of his wings. When you feel that pinch of trials, struggles, and temptation, call out to him like Peter, “Lord, save me!” He will not let you be put to shame.