Saturday, February 16, 2013

Homily: Lent 1: 2013

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.

Presumably the reason that Jesus told some of his followers about his temptation in the wilderness and they repeated it at least to the Evangelists and they wrote it down and the Church wants us to hear this story this Sunday is not just because it is a really a good story.

It is of course that -- a remarkable and extraordinary tale. The Incarnation seems so wonderful when it is surrounded by Christmas decorations, Mary and Joseph, singing angels, shepherds, wise men and the Baby.  But you move from Bethlehem to the desert this Sunday and you begin to see what the Incarnation really means.  God Almighty Himself, just like all of us, subjected to the allures and charms and snares of the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  As the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”. In every respect.

The Temptations of Jesus have been passed on to us by revelation because they tell us something about our own temptations. That is so because He shares with us a Human Nature. But the opposite is also true we know something about His temptations because we have ourselves been tempted.

The wisdom of the Christian Tradition from St. Augustine on holds that there are three stages in temptation: suggestion, delight, and consent. If that is true for us, it was also true for Jesus.

The good news is that the devil never comes up with new ideas, Adam and Eve, Jesus, you and me, it’s the same deal.

First, then suggestion. “ The serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” The serpent says to Eve: did God tell you that you should not eat of every tree in the garden. Eve: he sure did, God said do not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, lest you die.  Serpent: oh, come on, you’re not going to die.  Temptation arises out of sowing doubt. God didn’t really mean that. Don’t be such a literalist. So Eve goes from something she knows for sure to being not so sure. So do we.

It is just the same with Jesus: twice the Devil says “if you are the Son of God”. Jesus knows he is the Son of God, if for no other reason than the fact that His Father has just told Him so at His Baptism. I will give you all authority and glory, but Jesus already has been given that by the Father.

The truth matters.

Next, delight:” when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate”. Not only that but she also shared it with her husband. What could be sweeter, nicer and good? Jesus does not delight in the Tempter’s offers, but, make no mistake about all three temptations are designed to delight. Think of all the good that could come from turning stones into bread.  What a difference you could make, if you were in charge. The end justifies the means. All you have to do is worship that which is not-God. God Himself will applaud you for that.

Things are not always what they seem.

Finally, consent. Adam Eve took of the fruit and ate it. It is worth noting that in this sad chain of events there is not yet sin. The fact that you are tempted is not a sin; it might even be something of a compliment that the Devil thinks you are worth tempting. (Padre: when you get serious about God, the Devil will get serious about you.)

Also we cannot say “the Devil made me do it.” The dogma of our age is no one is responsible for what they do, something or someone else is responsible. But the dogma of the Christian religion is the choice is ours.

There is no reason in the world to think that the temptations of Jesus were not tempting to Him. The only difference between us and Jesus is that He put up a fight and mostly we surrender. Well, of course, we will say, He put up a fight and won because He was the divine Son of God. But what Jesus is by nature we are by adoption and grace, sons of God.

We may not always win but we need to put up a fight. The “No” of fasting, abstinence, self-denial, the “Yes” of prayer and almsgiving, repentance and confession:  these are our weapons in the spiritual combat. Above all, it is the Cross of Jesus which decides the outcome. The fight is on.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen, I've read, heard, re-read...and reflected. Thanks for your thoughts. Respectfully, Brent