17Feb 17th February 2013. 1st Sunday of Lent

Deut 26:4-10. Through the offerning to God of the firsts fruits of harvest, the people recognise God’s favours to them, especially in their Exodus from slavery.

Rom 10:8-13. The core of the Christian credo is that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord. If anyone Jew or Gentile, can say that and live by it, he or she will be saved.

Lk 4:1-13. Jesus was tempted like we are but he did not sin. Through his grace we too can esist temptation and overcome sin.

Theme: Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are three traditional forms of expressing our conversion. Lent is the penitential season, prompted by the gospel account of Christ’s forty days in the desert.

First Reading: Book of Deuteronomy 26:4-10

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Romans 10:8-13

But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with he heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The Power of His Touch

If you were to visit the only remaining part of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, you would find rows of Jews praying there every day, their heads nodding up and down, and most of them with their prayer shawls draped over their shoulders. These shawls have their origin in the larger robes with fringes ending in tassels which all devout Jews wore in ancient times. We know that Jesus himself wore one of these, because when the woman, who for twelve years had suffered from a haemorrhage, came seeking a cure, we are told that she touched the tassel of his robe. She was overjoyed to find herself cured, but grew alarmed when Christ wanted to know who had touched him. His disciples were down to earth in their response, “Look at the crowds crushing you on every side. What’s the point of saying, “Who touched me?”” But then came the rather puzzling remark of Jesus, “Someone has touched me, for I know that power has gone out of me.” This self-awareness of Jesus lies behind today’s gospel account of his Temtation in the wilderness, an event which, following on God’s approval of him at his baptism in the Jordan by John, marked his preparation for his public mission throughout the next three years.

The Temptation narrative is the most sacred of stories, for, as he was alone throughout his forty days in the wilderness, no one other than Jesus himself could have revealed it to his disciples; and it tells us clearly that Christ, even before he had began preaching, was conscious of having this quite exceptional power. The whole point of the Temptation story is that in telling it he was revealing to those close to him how he struggled within himself to find the most effective way of using this marvellous power. We ordinary humans are never tempted to try turning stones into bread, for the simple reason that such a thing is quite impossible for us. It could only be a temptation for a man with the unique power of being able to do it. We see then how Jesus, in the first temptation, toyed with the possibility of winning followers by providing a miraculous and limitless supply of free bread for people, but then saw this as akin to the offering of bribes which would inevitably fail since spiritual commitment des not necessarily follow from material gain. On the contrary, material wealth can easily lead to an erosion of religious values, as he was to say later.

Next, being taken up to the top of a mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time – meaning that this was a vision – the temptation for Christ was to become a secular messiah, one who would use political means to make people turn to God. Again Jesus dismisses this, being convinced that people will enter into a spiritual union with God, if, and only if, they are drawn by God’s Holy Spirit. The third and final temptation was to become a messiah of the spectacular, the sensational, the kind that so many people wanted – those who throughout his public life kept asking for signs. What if he were to throw himself from off the pinnacle of the Temple and emerge unscathed. But Jesus saw quite clearly that by such performances he could well end up being a nine days” wonder, and quickly forgotten once he had passed on. “You must not put the Lord your God to the test,” he said, perhaps as a warning to himself not to be rash, not to experiment with the power God had given him.

The conviction formed in his mind that the hard way of service to mankind, the only one which would endure, would take the form of suffering and the Cross, and only after the Cross would come the crown. Without the crucifixion Christ would long since be forgotten. In every event of Christ’s earthly life, God is saying something to us too. The story of the Temptations is surely a warning to us not to allow purely selfish considerations to govern our lives. We must try and be guided by the Holy Spirit, who continues to speak to us in our conscience throughout our stay on this earth. Imitate Christ by taking up the Cross every, day, not with an air of gloomy resignation, but with a cheerful acceptance of what the daily round may bring. Try and make Jesus a dominating influence in our lives, reflect upon his words and actions with reverence and affection, so as to bring about an inner purification of our minds and wills.

Coping with Temptation

Three temptations are listed: to change stone into bread, to fall down and worship the devil, and to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple. In each of these what the devil is saying to Jesus is, “Use what you have to get what you want.” And in each case Jesus overcomes the temptation by replying, “No, we can only use the proper means to satisfy our needs and seek our goals in life.”

In the first temptation, Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness and at the end of it he was hungry. The devil puts an idea into his head: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). Notice that the first thing the devil does is sow a doubt in his mind: “if you are the Son of God.” “Are you really sure God is with you?” The same thing happened in the garden of Eden. The first thing the Tempter said to Eve was, “Did God really say you should not eat of any fruit of the garden” (Genesis 3:1). Temptation always begins with a doubting thought. Did God really say this or is it just a fairy tale? Jesus overcame the temptations by refusing to entertain such doubts and by standing on the word of God.

People are tempted by what they need or want. After his fasting Jesus needed to eat. So the devil tempted him with food. It is not a sin for Jesus to eat after fasting. The sin may lie in how the food is obtained. Should he follow the normal way of obtaining bread or should he take the shortcut suggested by the devil to obtain instant bread? Jesus refuses to take the devil’s shortcut. The means we employ to satisfy our needs must be in accordance with the word of God. Feeding on God’s word is ultimately more important than feeding on bread. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone'” (v. 4).

In the second temptation the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises to give him authority over them if only Jesus would worship him. Remember that Jesus was about to begin his public life and was looking for a way to get the whole world to know him and accept his message. Again the devil tempts him to use what he has (his heart, his soul) to get what he wants (the loyalty of the whole world). Again Jesus says no. The end does not justify the means. “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'” (v. 8).

In the third temptation the devil asks Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple as a way to prove that he was the Son of God. Remember that the people were asking Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah. Jesus DID want to convince them to trust in his message. But how do you do it. The devil suggested this sensational sky-jump without a parachute. Again, use what you have to get what you want. Use your supernatural power to get the people to recognize you and believe in you as the Son of God, the Messiah. And again Jesus says no. The God of Jesus Christ is not a God of the sensational but a God who works through the ordinary, everyday things of life. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 12).