10Mar 10 March: 1st Sunday of Lent

The story of Jesus’ temptations is not to be taken lightly. It’s a warning that we can ruin our lives if we stray from the path God wills for us.

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Offering the firsts fruits of harvest, they give thanks to God

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 labour 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.

Responsorial: Psalm 90: 1-2, 10-15

Response: Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
says to the Lord: ‘My refuge,
my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!’ (R./)

Upon you no evil shall fall,
no plague approach where you dwell.
For you has he commanded his angels,
to keep you in all your ways. (R./)

They shall bear you upon their hands
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
On the lion and the viper you will tread
and trample the young lion
and the dragon. (R./)

His love he set on me, so I will rescue him;
protect him for he knows my name.
When he calls I shall answer: ‘I am with you.’
I will save him in distress and give him glory. (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans 10:8-13

The core of our credo is that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord

Now what does Scripture 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 was tempted like we are, but he did not sin

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.


Fundamental Options

Since he was alone in the desert, nobody but Jesus himself could know what went on in his heart. The implication of the temptation story is that he had to struggle within himself to find the best way to live his life for God. We ordinary mortals will hardly imagine ourselves turning stones into bread; but in the first temptation Jesus seems to toy with the possibility of providing a limitless supply of bread for people, like the daily dole-out of food by which Roman emperors kept popular with their followers. But Jesus saw how a focus on food and drink can lead to forgetting spiritual values. “Man does not live on bread alone.”

Next, the scene on the mountain-top, seeing all the kingdoms of the world, suggests a temptation to become a secular messiah, dominating the the nations and having power to impose religion on people, like it or not. He dismisses this notion too, since people will enter into a true union with God only if they are drawn to it in spirit. The third and final temptation was to become just a sensational celebrity, since throughout his public life people kept asking for further miracles. What if he were to throw himself from off the pinnacle of the Temple and be unscathed. But he saw quite clearly that this would be just showmanship. He saw, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test!” as a warning not to be rash and superficial.

Jesus sensed that his ultimate service to mankind, the effective one that would endure, would be through suffering and the Cross, after which would come the crown. Without his crucifixion and resurrection his message would be forgotten. In every event of life, God is saying something to us too. The story of the Temptations is warns us not to let selfishness govern our lives. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who continues to prompt our conscience throughout our days. Imitate Our Lord by taking up life’s challenges, not with an air of gloomy resignation, but cheerfully accepting what providence may bring. Let Jesus be a major 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.

The great temptation

The story of Jesus’ temptations is not to be taken lightly. It’s a warning that we can ruin our lives if we stray from the path God wills for us. The first temptation was decisively important.  On the surface it is a desire for something innocent and good: why not call on God power to satisfy our hunger. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread,”  the tempter says to Jesus. His reply is surprising: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” We must always seek God’s will above all. At every moment we must listen to God’s Word, seek God’s will.

Our deepest needs are not met by physical food and drink. Human beings need and yearn for more, for spiritual nurture. To help save other people from hunger and misery, we need to listen to God our Father, who awakens in our conscience a hunger for justice and solidarity.

Perhaps our great temptation today is to “change things into bread”, to reduce our desires to what is tangible and consumable. Indiscriminate consumerism is all around us, but it is hardly the way to progress and liberation. A consumerist society leads to emptiness and discontent. Why do the number of suicides keep growing? Why do we barricade ourselves  in  gated communities, and build walls and barriers to stop hungry people from sharing our prosperity and disturbing our peace?

Jesus wants us to be aware that human beings do not live on bread alone. We also need to nurture the spirit, know love and friendship, develop solidarity with those who suffer, listen to ouir conscience, open to the ultimate Mystery of sharing, that joins us with God.

Saying “NO” to temptation

When we want to give in to any temptation, we will always find reasons, arguments and logic to support our desires. But when we need wisdom from God to challenge, question and walk over our temptations. Every year on the First Sunday of Lent we read the gospel story of Jesus being tempted by Satan. The message of the Gospel is not just about saying “NO” to temptation but about challenging the temptation or the tempter.

The first temptation was to turn stone into bread. Stones were in plenty around Jesus. If all the stones changed to bread, there would be enough food for a lifetime. The problem of poverty in the world is because so many people want to stack up and store money and material for a life-time. It is the feeling of insecurity. Jesus spoke of a parable of a man who wanted to pull down his barns and build larger ones but the Lord asked him ‘you fool. If your life would be demanded of you tonight, whose will all this be?’ Giving in to the first kind of temptation is like trying to accumulate for a life time when God wants us to live one day at a time. Giving in to this temptation will lead us to pillage, plunder, cheat, grab and snatch from others as much as we can.

The second temptation was that Satan would give all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him. This temptation is all too evident from the growing power struggles seen in the world today and increase in violence and bloodshed; one religion trying to dominate another, nations trying to out-do another in economy and weaponry to become world-superpowers; cultures, communities and ethnic groups claiming superiority over another. This temptation for power begins at the individual level when we forget Jesus teaching ‘those who wish to be first must be the servant of all’ leading us to clamor for power, position and fame even at the cost and dignity of another.

The third temptation was for Jesus to perform a spectacular act of falling from the pinnacle and not getting hurt. This temptation reveals itself in certain dangerously advancing technologies where man is trying to play God. Technology is good if it improves the quality of life, but dangerous when the creature wants to become creator. When we rely only on our own strengths and intelligence we will discount God. All our intelligence put together still cannot stop a tsunami, an earthquake or the raging waters of our flood. Paradoxically, it is our intelligence itself that has breached nature’s course and aggravated natural calamities.

So when any temptation faces you, don’t just say “No”, but question it as Jesus did. Liken your temptation to any of his temptations and seek the wisdom of God to handle it.


 Three ways of losing track

The first temptation is about bread to satisfy hunger. Jesus resists using divine power to satisfy his own hunger. What’s important for him is seeking God’s reign and justice. We must work so that there may be bread for everyone. When Jesus begs God for food, but it will be to feed a hungry crowd. Our temptation can be to worry exclusively about our own needs. We lose track of Jesus when we think we have the right to everything, and forget  those who have nothing.

The second temptation is about power and glory. Jesus renounces all that, even when satan offers to hand over to him all the kingdoms of the world. He doesn’t ever seek to be served, but to serve. Some Christians are tempted to maintain all the power the Church has had in times past. We lose track of Jesus when we try to impose our beliefs by force. God’s reign opens up paths for them when we work for a world of more compassion and solidarity.

The third temptation proposes that he display himself in grandiose manner to the people, held up by God’s angels. Jesus doesn’t let himself be led astray. He is not interested in spectacular signs for his own prestige. He dedicates himself to do signs of goodness in order to ease the suffering and the pains of the people. We can lose track of truth when we confuse our own flaunting with God’s glory. Our celebrity doesn’t reveal God’s greatness. Only a life of humble service to those in need manifests and spreads God’s Love. [adapted from J.A. Pagola]

Faithful in all things

The threat of rising interest rates, more taxes and less welfare, huge amounts of foreign debt putting a strain on health and education spending, is a recurring refrain in our media. All this talk about money, understandable as it is, leaves us wondering: ‘Is this all there is? Is it really money that makes the world go round? Whatever happened media to human interest stories, to human relationships? Are our only values economic ones?‘ Thank God we still have the living memory of Jesus, and the stories of his teaching and example to remind us that there’s a lot more to life than money!

This Sunday we remember how Jesus kept God’s highest commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ ‘With all your heart‘ (with total determination,) ‘With all your soul‘ (loving and serving God our whole life long) ‘With all your strength‘ (putting all of ourselves at God’s disposal.) The love of Jesus for God and God’s people was total; but this does not mean that it was any easier for him to practice than it is for us. He too had to struggle to choose between God and self. The tension of it is spelled out in the dramatic story of the temptations Jesus faced during his time of prayer in the desert. There he spent forty days working out the meaning of his life, trying to figure out what God wanted of him. In the process he came face to face with certain fundamental choices.

First, the tempter suggests to Jesus, who was hungry after fasting: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.’ In other words, use your power and influence, not for others but for your own satisfaction, comfort and convenience. But though Jesus is desperate for something to eat, he will not dally with this desire, even for a moment. Instead he seeks nourishment of a different kind, relying on God’s clear message: ‘One does not live on bread alone.’

That was one kind of temptation, but the idea that next comes to Jesus is even more subtle and appealing. This is to use his intelligence and his charisma to gather round him the rich and powerful from every nation, and, eventually, to become a great political leader. It was the temptation to seek world attention and become a political messiah, a temptation to fame and fortune and empire-building. This attraction is the very opposite of what God has said in Scripture about his chosen servant, the saviour of the world’s poor and marginalised. God clearly means his Messiah to be a humble servant, a suffering servant, one who sacrifices his life in love. Jesus remembers this, realizes this, and takes it to heart. And so he blitzes the temptation with another clear and definite command of God in Scripture: ‘You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

The third temptation  (according to Luke) is to go to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem and take a flying leap from there. A stunt like this will surely attract new followers, and prove to Jesus personally whether God cares about him or not. The very thought of it is fascinating. Jesus, however, promptly puts the idea completely out of his mind as he remembers and relishes God’s word: ‘You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’

During his temptations Jesus was weak with hunger, but he still held firm. He hadn’t eaten for many days, but he still said No. What mattered to him was to do the will of his heavenly Father. He treasured the word of God and was determine to live by it. Each of the temptations pointed to some selfish option that was contrary to his real mission. In each case, he resisted, to be faithful to God. We too are sometimes drawn to some selfish option or other, whether pride, anger, lust, gluttony or the rest. But if we turn to God for guidance, by his grace we too can stay faithful.

DÍLIS i gcoinne an CATHÚ

Le linn dó bheith faoi ionsaí ag na cathaithe san bhfásach, bhí Íosa lag leis an ocras, ach sheas sé an fód. Níor ith sé blúire ar feadh i bhfad, ach níor ghéíll sé. Dar leis, an rud ba thábhachtaí dó i gcónaí ná bheith dílis do thoil a Athar. Ghlac sé le Briathar Dé agus chinn sé cloí leis. Leag gach cathú rogha ann féin a thabharfadh an cluas bhodhar dá mhisean. I ngach cás, d’fhan sé stuama, dílis do Dhia. Is minic sinn claonta le rogha fé leith, cibé bród, fearg, dúil gnéasach nó peaca an chraois. An té go bhfuil a sheasamh ar an Tiarna leanfaidh sé dílis do ghrásta Dé.

One Response

  1. Joe O'Leary

    1. Our lives are scattered and superficial, and our church seems to be in a state of disarray, which demands rethinking and reform. Some want the reform to be radical, sparing no venerable structures or habits of mind, while others, to the contrary, want it to be a restoration of the past. Our church is divided between these two alternatives. But both sides can listen together, at the beginning of Lent, to the voices from ancient Israel calling us back to our spiritual roots.
    “Deuteronomy” means “Second Law” and recounts a great ceremony in which the Covenant between God and his people is renewed, as Moses recites the Law anew so that the Israelites can solemnly declare their allegiance to it. Moses is now addressing not the generation that lived through the original exodus out of Egypt, but a new generation, toward the end of the forty years of desert wandering. Moses will die at the end of the book and Joshua will lead the people into the promised land The setting is the region of Moab, across the river Jordan from the promised land of Canaan. In this grandiose epic act of remembrance the Israelites rediscover who they are and prepare themselves of their great deeds of conquest. In Lent the Christian community likewise remember who they are and prepare for great deeds of spiritual conquest with the new Joshua, Jesus Christ.
    2. It is in the desert, in forty years of wandering, that the Israelites discovered the nature of their God. Jesus relives those forty years in his forty days in the desert, when he overcomes Satan with three well-chosen quotations from the Book of Deuteronomy. Each year, during the forty days of Lent, we in turn relive the desert experience of the Israelites and of Jesus.
    My image of deserts is based on movies such as Zabriskie Point (Antonioni, 1970), The Sheltering Sky (Bertolucci, 1990), Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002), and Japanese Story (Australia, 2003), but no doubt the real experience of the desert cannot be caught on celluloid. I gather that a desert is a very disorienting place, where clear landmarks are hard to establish. The wandering Israelites in the wilderness often express frustration, asking Moses, “Where are we going? Where are you taking us?”
    In our Lenten wandering, we recall the faith and self-denial of our parents and grandparents, in an Ireland that lived not by bread but by the word of God. Those were often harsh times, stretching back to still harsher. Does it not seem that those generations acquitted themselves honourably in the sight of God, whereas those who have come after have lost their bearings and care no longer about how things look in the eyes of God—how things really are. The desert is a school of reality, but we are the most restive and rebellious of learners, unable to sit still
    A second feature of deserts is their vast horizons of space. In a desert one lives frugally, minimalistically, on a daily ration of bread and water, so one’s life becomes very small, but at the same time it becomes vast as one takes in the unbounded landscape of sand and sky. So our Lenten desert need not be a time of narrowness. We can expand our hearts and minds, learning more about God and his people as we refuse to let our egos get in the way and block the view.
    A third feature, I’m told by someone who visited the Judaean desert, is a silence that is intense and that weighs on one heavily. During Lent we feel that divine silence in our hearts, judging our actions, and perhaps blessing them when we resist the lure of mirages, and walk soberly and humbly with our God.

    3. “A wandering Aramaean was my father…”
    Who is the wandering Aramaean of this prayer? It is a kind of creed, to be recited by the Israelites when they enter the promised land, as a joyful expression of gratitude and praise to the God who liberated them from slavery in Egypt. It is to be accompanied by an offering of the first-fruits of their harvest. Exegetes like Gerhard Van Rad came up with the idea that this prayer is the oldest text in Scripture. That is an attractive fantasy, which has not held up to scholarly analysis. Yet however old it is, it is undeniably a text that takes us back to the ancient roots of our faith, and a text that speaks to us today in a haunting way.
    The “Aramaean” is not Abraham but Jacob, somewhat disparaged here, because his mother Rebecca and his wives Leah and Rachel were from the Aramaean region, and where he himself spent twenty years of his life, exiled from his home in Canaan. Wandering in the desert, the Israelites recall their wandering forefathers and foremothers, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his family.

    Jacob is the most fully depicted person in the Book of Genesis, and the dominant character in its latter half, from chapter 25 to chapter 50. It is regrettable that his story cannot be conveyed fully in the snippets we read at Mass.
    Jacob, in his wanderings, had much cause for confusion, what with the bed-trick played on him by Laban, making him marry first the elder and unfavoured daughter, and his alienation from his vengeful brother Esau, and the troubles caused him by his sons. In liminal areas on his wanderings, when familiar landmarks are far away, he experiences theophanies, as when he lay on a stone and had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a heavenly staircase or ziggurat, a Babylonian image, or when at the brook Jabbok he wrestled with a heavenly bein and received the new name Israel, “wrestles with God” (Gen 35:9-10). Throughout his story, Jacob’s family troubles interact with his struggle with God. His reconciliation with Esau, the day after his struggle at the Brook Jabbok—“I have seen the face of God and live” (Gen 32:30)—is marked by the moving words, “Your face to me is as the face of God” (33:10). Jacob must have puzzled over his own identity as he moved between different worlds. The Lord himself added to the confusion by his obscure appearances.
    Jacob’s wanderings were a tremendous enrichment of the identity of the people of Israel, named after him. Uprooted again in old age, he goes down to Egypt, a strange, unknown environment. There his household of seventy members grew to a great people over four hundred years. Christians in the modern world have become wanderers like Jacob, often confused, but gaining a blessing as Christian identity is enriched and ripened by exposure it to new cultural contexts.
    Jacob is a touching figure in old age, rather frail and pathetic, like his blind father Isaac whom he mocked and deceived. Now deceived and mocked by his own sons, he must have had ample opportunity to reflect on his own behaviour of long ago. The loss of Rachel leaves lasting wound, causing him to cling with desperate affection to her two sons. And even in old age things happen that turn his whole world upside down:

    ‘They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. “And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied. “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”’ (Gen 45:26-46:4)

    To the Pharaoh he declares: “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (Gen 47:9).
    Jacob’s deathbed blessing of Joseph’s two sons echoes the scene of the blessing stolen from blind Isaac: ‘Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too”… Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn’ (48:10-11, 14). After all his wandering, he insists again and again that he wants to be buried back in the land of Canaan, and his last words are: ‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah’ (49:29-31).
    Lent, when we touch the bedrock of our faith, is a time of remembrance, when we find ourselves following the footsteps of the saints who went before us and whose heroic faithfulness challenges us to live the Christian adventure to the full as they did. Comfortable horizons are shaken, great spaces open out, and the divine silence presses on us, leading us on, as individuals and communities, to the promised land.

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