(A biblical refection on the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT [Year C], 14 February 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 4:1-13
First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalms: Psalm 91:1-2,10-15; Second Reading: Romans 10:8-13
And 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. And He ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To You I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it shall all be Yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” And he took Him to Jerusalem, and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge of you, to guard You,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 RSV)
As we begin the season of Lent, the Church wants us to reflect on the relationship between God and the people of the Old Testament, between God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and between God and ourselves. The three readings for today’s Mass should remind us of these relationships.
The first reading shows the relationship between God and the Old Testament people. It recalls that after Israel had gone down into Egypt where the people were mistreated and enslaved, God brought the people out of slavery in the exodus in order to lead them into the promised land. The exodus was the great saving event of the Old Testament. God revealed Himself thereby as Savior of His people. Before the people entered the promised land, however, they wandered in the desert for forty years. There they faced grave temptations, and for the most part they failed God. They were selfish, thinking only of themselves and their own welfare. They wanted God to feed them, and even after He did so miraculously they were not satisfied. They murmured against God and wanted to put Him to the test, to have Him prove His might and His power. They lacked trust. And despite all that God had done for them, many fell into idolatry and worshipped false gods.
Jesus came as the new Israel, the chosen one of God. In His person He summed up the whole purpose and meaning of the chosen people, and fulfilled and completed all that they should have been and more. Like the chosen people Jesus was led into the desert, and there He spent, not forty years, but forty days. There He underwent temptation similar to those of the Israelites. The devil tempted Jesus to be selfish: “Command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). The devil was trying to get Him to think only of Himself, to use His power for His own convenience and comfort. The devil tempted Jesus to put God to the test, to have God prove His might and His power by saving Jesus from destruction in a leap from the parapet of the temple (Luke 4:9-11). The devil even tempted Jesus to idolatry by saying: “If You, then, will worship me, it shall all be Yours” (Luke 4:7).
Yes, Jesus did undergo temptations similar to those of the Israelites in the desert, but where the Israelites had failed, Jesus was triumphant. Jesus showed that His relationship with His Father was based on loving obedience. That loving obedience indeed led Jesus to die on the Cross, but it was through that death that God exalted Him and led Him into the true promised land, the life of perfect happiness in heaven.
What of our own relationship with God? We are the new chosen people of God. He wants to lead us into the promised land with Jesus, but for a while we must wander in the desert of this world. Here we too undergo temptations. We are enticed by the devil to be selfish, to think only of ourselves, our welfare, our convenience. When our wants and wishes are not satisfied, we are tempted to put God to the test, to demand that He show His power and His might by healing the ills of our society and by solving our own personal problems. We are even tempted to turn from the true God to worship false gods, such as materialism, pleasure/hedonism, expediency, laziness, etc.
We will fall victim to these temptations if we forget all that God has already done for us and what He promises in the future. God has saved us in Jesus Christ, and as He raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him because of His loving obedience, so God will raise us and lift us up to heaven if we have the same loving obedience as Jesus. That is our faith, and it should be a motive to keep us from failing God.
Dear Sisters and Brothers, lest we become selfish and concerned only with ourselves, we should be more generous in works of charity. Lest we give in to the temptation to put God to the test, to demand that He show His power, we should prepare with joy for the paschal feast, the mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Finally, lest we become worshippers of modern false gods, we must be more fervent in prayer. With these antidotes we will avoid the failure of the Israelites, and will share in the triumph of Jesus.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, during this season of Lent, as a disciple of Jesus, I ask You from the bottom of my heart to let me share my life more deeply with others, especially those around me. I want to appreciate them more, to understand where I can be of help to them and act on that, how I can love them more, love them in Christ, lift them up to You so You will be praised and glorified. Empty my life of everything that keeps me from loving You. Amen.
Jakarta, 11 February 2016
A Christian Pilgrim