1st Sunday of Lent
Always on the first Sunday of Lent we read of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. As some of you may know one of the common and very ancient ways of understanding the 3 temptations of Jesus are as temptations to avoid the cross by social work, politics or popularity.
Turn stone into bread – feed the world, cure all disease, end global warming that’s the way to salvation.
See all these countries? Become powerful, a ruler a great politician then you can make good laws, that’s the way to salvation.
Finally “Jump- - you’ll come to no harm” work a great miracle that everyone can see, prove you’re great a superhero, then they’ll follow, that’s the way to salvation.
But of course none of these is the way of salvation and the final words of today’s gospel “the devil left him to return at the appointed time” remind us that the temptation in the wilderness is just the beginning of that way which is the cross.
What always surprised me when I was younger was the notion of Jesus being tempted. Jesus is God, how can he be tempted? When the second person of the blessed trinity with his divine nature was conceived in the womb of Our Lady he united a human nature to his divine nature so just as that human nature meant that Jesus could laugh and cry it also meant he could be tempted just as you and I are tempted. It is at the heart of the salvation Jesus won for us though that in spite of temptation his human will, his human love, his human acts remain always in accord with divine will, divine love, divine action, he does not sin.
Another aspect of this rich Gospel episode is that the devil seems to be trying to find out if Jesus is God, trying to work out what he has to deal with. And that is a reminder to us that the devil has limits. He doesn’t know everything, I might add he can’t be everywhere and obviously he is not all powerful. Indeed one of the many reasons to warn people against using Ouija boards, or going to séances or consulting mediums or other similar things is that the devil may not know you exist – so don’t let on to him. Indeed we sometimes blame the devil when the problem is us. We say the devil tempted me or the devil created a problem when in fact its me. My refusal of grace, my lack of faith, hope and love, which allows me to be attracted to this or that particular sin.
Lent is certainly a time to shape up. Sometimes people say that rather than give something up they will do something this Lent. Well yes We all have plenty to do during Lent. In particular more prayer and more charity. But the Church has never failed to stress the importance of giving things up as well, of fasting.
By fasting the Church doesn’t mean giving up something you shouldn’t be doing anyway like “I’m going to give up murder this lent”. Fasting means giving up something good that you normally enjoy for four specific reasons: of acquiring mastery over our human desires (training yourself to say no), of realising that our true happiness comes from God not from any created thing. Of uniting our selves in some small way with the suffering of our Saviour on the cross and finally of trying to make up in some small way for our sins which caused him to die on the cross.
Jesus was in the wilderness preparing, training, for his mission, for us Lent is a training camp, making us fit for the battle of discipleship. Join in the exercises, fasting, prayer and charity. If you don’t you will not just be unfit for battle but you will be a liability for your fellow Christians who through your lack of fitness you will hold back and expose to the enemy.