March 10, 2019
The First Sunday in Lent
(Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13)
On this first Sunday in Lent, we are entering a season that lasts 40 days. Forty days recalls various periods of preparation in the Old Testament, including the forty days Moses spent fasting and with God on Mt. Zion at the giving of the Law (Ex. 34:28), the forty days the Israelites spent spying out the Promised Land (Num. 13:25), and the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Num. 14:34).
It also is the time Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and being tempted by the devil. (The Greek word used here for temptation (peirazo) does not indicate that Jesus had the disordered desire that we refer to in English as temptation. Instead, it means "to try," "to attempt." Here the devil tries to get Jesus to sin--and fails.)
Forty days. That's a long time to fast, eating "nothing at all." A long time to be tempted by Satan.
Fortunately, Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit" during this period, and he was "led by the Spirit in the wilderness." As grueling as these 40 days were, they had a purpose -- God knew that Jesus had to let go of some things, and hold onto others. Jesus also had to reverse the trend of “40 days.” In contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. He had to reverse the bad trends with a perfect one. To right a wrong. To change something that was lost, into something found.
In the desert, Jesus was going to the Lost and Found.
All through history, important items have been lost and found. Some are good and some are bad -- a book called Found lists some of them: Discarded valentines, ransom notes, to-do lists, diaries, homework assignments, even a letter written on the back of an airsickness bag. What do you think the letter said? "You make me sick"? The plane or the significant other I wonder?
Important items are lost and found all over, from deserts to mountaintops. One list of items that have been lost concern stuff lost exclusively on trains. Not on planes, buses, taxis or ships -- just trains.
Lost: A rare Buddhist scripture. A Tibetan scholar accidentally left his laptop on the London Tube, losing nearly 1,000 pages of rare 17th-century Buddhist scriptures.
Found: A boa constrictor named Penelope. In 2011, a woman lost her 3-foot-long pet serpent on a train. Authorities looked for it, and then confidently declared that "the trains are absolutely snake-free." One month later, Penelope was found in the next car.
Lost: A violin concerto. A British composer spent a whole year writing his first violin concerto. Then he lost it at London's Victoria Station. Starting from scratch, he took another whole year to finish Violin Concerto No. 2.
Found: A 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, worth millions of dollars. In 2013, a musician lent his Stradivarius to a friend so that he could play it at a birthday party. But the friend lost it on a train in Switzerland. Don't you hate it when that happens? Fortunately a good Samaritan turned it in.
Lost: Ernest Hemingway. Well, not the author, but all of his early fiction. Hemingway's wife packed all of his papers in a suitcase and boarded a train in Paris. She hopped off the train to get a bottle of water, and when she returned, the suitcase was gone. None of the work had yet been published, so it was lost forever. Hemingway said, "All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem."
And finally, a valuable find: Pete Seeger's banjo. The folksinger had carried his instrument on many trains, but, in the year 2000, he misplaced it while riding from New York City to Poughkeepsie. Fortunately, someone turned it in to the Lost and Found, and it was reunited with its 81-year-old owner.
Scriptures, concertos and manuscripts. Lost. Snakes, violins and banjos. Found. Some are bad and some are good. Some should be released, and some should be grasped tightly.
The challenge in life is to figure out what should be lost, and what should be found.
At the end of 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus knew exactly what he needed to do.
Luke tells us that Jesus "ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry." The devil says to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." This is a tempting proposition, since Jesus is hungry, and certainly has the power to transform a piece of marble into a marbled rye.
But Jesus answers, "It is written, 'One does not live on bread alone'."
Lost: A loaf of bread to fill his stomach. Found: The nourishment of the Word of God.
We face a similar temptation when we feel empty inside and look for something physical to fill us up. Maybe it's a piece of Godiva chocolate, a curved-screen television, an item of custom jewelry, the latest smartphone, or the latest plush Mickey (my weakness!). Having such desires is nothing new -- people have been feeling this way for thousands of years.
In the time of Jesus, rich people wanted bigger barns to store their grain and their goods (see the Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:13-21). Today, we desire bigger homes, faster computers and well-equipped cars with the new-car smell. But none of these things provides lasting satisfaction.
Better to follow the example of Jesus who. In the Matthew version of this story, he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, "One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." This means choosing to "do justice, and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). It means following the great commandment of Jesus to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
Such choices will nourish us and give us life. Much more than a loaf of bread. Or a brand new car.
Next, the devil leads Jesus up to a high place and shows him all of the kingdoms of the world. Satan says to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me."
The devil has authority over the kingdoms of the world, and he can give it to anyone he chooses. Jesus can have it, if he wants -- all he has to do is worship Satan.
But Jesus says, " It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve."
Lost: Authority over the kingdoms of the world. Found: Worshiping and serving God alone.
In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks tells the story of Augustine, the fourth-century theologian. Augustine deeply desired fame and status, but found that these things didn't make him happy. Nothing he was accomplishing as a philosopher was giving him the contentment he desired.
"Left to ourselves, we often desire the wrong things," writes Brooks. "Whether it's around the dessert tray or in the late-night bar, we know we should choose one thing but end up choosing another." We understand our long-term interest but end up pursuing short-term pleasures. Even good things such as friendship will leave us unsatisfied if the friendship is not attached to something higher.
In the end, Augustine turned to God and said, "Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." Nothing in this world will give us the rest and the peace that only God can give. This is why Jesus said no to authority over all the kingdoms of the world, and yes to worshiping and serving God alone (not to mention that he already has authority over the kingdoms of the world).
Finally, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, the holy city of God. Satan places him on the pinnacle of the temple and says, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you'."
The devil has heard Jesus quoting Scripture, so now he does it himself. In Psalm 91, Satan finds the words that he hopes will change Jesus' mind, words which are followed by the verse, “With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
In this case, quoting Scripture is a truly devilish move.
But Jesus responds with the Bible once again: "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'" That's Deuteronomy 6:16. Jesus hears the devil's quotation of Psalm 91 and counters it with Deuteronomy 6. Yes, it is certainly true that God will send angels to "protect you" and "bear you up" in times of danger -- but not if you willfully put yourself in harm's way and challenge God to save you.
What's lost in this final temptation is a dramatic rescue by the angels of God.
What's found is a right relationship with God, one in which God is served rather than tested. Jesus knows that the verse from Deuteronomy about testing God is followed by the words, "Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you "(6:18).
Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don't drink or do drugs, and then get on the highway, saying, "Save me, God!" Don't intentionally behave in promiscuous or reckless ways and then say, "Help me, Jesus!"
Instead, do what is right and good.
After all of these temptations, the devil “departed from him for a time.” Jesus comes through this game of Lost and Found by letting go of some things and finding some others. In the end, he finds much more than he loses.
The same is true for us.
We can find real nourishment in the word of God -- in teachings that show us the path to deep and lasting satisfaction. We can find rest and peace by worshiping God alone. And we can find safety and security in a right relationship with God, one that is based on serving instead of testing.
As always, Jesus shows us the things worth finding. And what we should be willing to lose.
Let us pray.
We pray that, during this Lent we too take the time to look into our own life values and our relationship with God, our Father. We pray to the Lord.
Today’s gospel reminds us that we are all tempted to do wrong from time to time. We pray that we, like Jesus, have the strength to resist temptation and to always do what is right by ourselves and by our neighbors. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that during Lent we leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church; that the Spirit may lead us to a fuller living of the Gospel and greater obedience and dependence on God alone. We pray to the Lord.
That we may slow down, detach ourselves from the busyness of daily life and find a quiet place to listen to God. We pray to the Lord.
For all those on our parish prayer list, that they may find strength and endurance in the love of Christ. We pray to the Lord
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, at all times let us worship and serve you. We ask you to make all our paths straight. Loving Father, our source of strength in every temptation, hear our prayers and help us to live on your Word. Grant that in all our needs, we may confess Jesus as the only Lord, fore it is in his name we pray. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA