A Homily for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Father Matthew Perreault
Father Matthew Perreault
March 8, 2020
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Almighty God, whose Son fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are but did not sin, give us grace to discipline ourselves in submission to your Spirit, that as you know our weakness, so we may know your power to save; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

 

Matt 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

INTRODUCTION

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. It is a season of preparation for the great celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. It is also a season which finds its origin and great meaning in our Gospel reading today, when Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days to prepare himself for his public ministry.

It was during this time in the wilderness that Jesus was tempted by the devil and resisted. We see in his temptation a direct contrast with the temptation of Adam and Eve. They succumbed to temptation and eat of the fruit they were forbidden to eat, while Jesus resists all temptation.

In this season of Lent, then, our hope finds itself, as always, in conforming our lives to Jesus.

So in order to understand that path—in order to prevent the devil from tempting us off the path Jesus calls us to follow—we need to explore and understand exactly what was happening when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

JESUS IN THE WILDERNESS

The first thing of note in our Gospel is that Jesus was led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.[1] As Jesus would later pray to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane, “not what I want, but what you want.”[2] Jesus fasts for 40 days and nights, and by the end of it he was famished.[3]

It is at this point that the devil arrives and tells Jesus to use his divine power for selfish gain: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”[4] This is the basest level temptation. The devil starts with the dirt of the earth. Make sensual pleasure—that is what our bodies can taste and touch and see—the centre of your life. This is what S. Paul refers to as the flesh.

Now let’s not be mistaken here, this isn’t about puritanism of rejecting pleasure or happiness for the body. The body is God-given and holy. Pleasure of the body can also be good. The question is does it become the centre of our life? Does it replace our deep, central, and primary love and desire for God as lord of our lives? Jesus rejects this temptation and the Devil is forced to try again.

He takes Jesus from the dust of the earth to a higher position, the pinnacle of the Temple, and tells Jesus to jump for if he is the Son of God, God will protect him.[5]

In the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was the social, economic, political, and religious centre of Jewish society. To be at the pinnacle of the Temple is to be at the pinnacle and centre of society. He is offering Jesus worldly glory. This is a higher-level temptation that is one of the mind and its orientation. Is it oriented towards God, or towards the World? Do we care about what God thinks of our actions, or do we place first what the world thinks of our actions? Again, Jesus overcomes this temptation, remembering who he is and whose he is.

This leads to the third temptation. The devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, even higher than the Temple, and shows him the splendour of the world. He offers it to Jesus if Jesus will bow down and worship the devil.[6]

On its face this seems a similar temptation to the second: he’s being offered the world. The glory of the world, even. But this isn’t about that. The devil is offering power. This is the highest-level temptation, the desire to control. Even within that, there is the revelation of the paradox of power. To get control over the world, Jesus would need to submit himself to the devil. It’s a reorientation of life away from worship of God towards something lower, towards the devil.

Jesus resists this temptation, and having resisted the flesh, the world, and the devil, he has made God the clear centre of his life, and is ready to begin his ministry as the Messiah.

LENT TODAY

It’s perhaps hard to see how this direct temptation of the devil telling Christ to turn stones into bread, jump off a tower, or worship him to become the ruler of the planet, relates to us today.

I’ve been tempted by a lot of things, but never specifically those things. Yet when we consider the how Christ is really being tempted: pleasure, glory, and power, or the flesh, the world, and the devil, it’s a bit easier to see how these temptations beset us day by day.

How then do we avoid the problem of Adam and Eve? They were tempted like Jesus, but fell into that temptation. How do we resist?

Lent is a time to go into the desert and face off against the devil. To face those temptations that orient our lives somewhere other than God.

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, and there is an exhortation in that service to keep a Holy Lent, “by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word.”[7] These traditional practices are exactly what we need to follow the way of Jesus.

Jesus began being moved by the Spirit. We begin in self-examination and repentance, which involves asking the Holy Spirit to illumine our hidden faults. In all we do he guides and directs us.

Fasting is our weapon against the flesh. It is a sign of our control over bodily desires and our will to orient our bodies towards God. What should we fast from? Whatever draws us from God. It might involve certain food types. It might involve media, or something else. The key to a good fast is asking yourself if there is something that you are allowing to shape and direct your life towards itself, rather than God.

The second temptation was the world. The glory of the world can be harder to resist. The world tells us we want to receive glory from others for what we do. The Church calls for almsgiving to fight against the world. Giving, either from our means or even of our poverty, in secret,[8] to others, is a means of controlling our desires and rejecting the will of the world.

The last temptation Christ faced was the devil himself, offering power. This is the highest and most difficult form of temptation to resist. The Church’s weapon against the devil is prayer. Pray as regularly as you can. Prayers can be quick when we have just a few seconds of free time. They can be lengthy when we have set aside time and space for it. Prayer takes all shapes, but the more frequently we communicate with our Creator in prayer, the easier it will be to maintain our lives in orientation towards him.

Finally, we are called to read and meditate on the Scriptures. It is from the Scriptures that we learn the character of God. The better we know God from Scriptures, the easier it is to orient our lives towards him, and to know why we would want to.

CONCLUSION

Lent is a time of preparation, to celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord, and to contemplate our own hope, through him, of resurrection. To do so, we must identify and overcome the temptations that try to draw us away from God. Using the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving against the devil this Lent are one way we can orient ourselves towards God.

A God we come to know more fully and more intimately in the desert, and who will help us to resist.

For, when we know the joy of our Creator, what pleasure can turn us away from him? When we know his glory, what worldly glory can compare? When we know his power, how can we possibly think the devil’s offer of power worthwhile?

[1] S. Mt iv. 1

[2] S. Mt xxvi. 39

[3] S. Mt iv. 2

[4] S. Mt iv. 3

[5] S. Mt iv. 5, 6

[6] S. Mt iv. 8, 9

[7] BAS 282

[8] S. Mt vi. 2-4

 

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