Sunday/Feast Day Reflections

Synopsis: Lent I [C] Sunday (Feb 14) Homily on Luke 4:1-13
Synopsis: Lent I [C] Sunday (Feb 14) Homily on Luke 4:1-13

Introduction:Lent begins with a reflection on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The Church assigns temptation stories to the beginning of Lent because temptations come to everybody, not only to Jesus, and we seem almost genetically programmed to yield to them. Scripture lessons: The first readingdescribes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God during the harvest festival in order to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. In the second reading, St. Paul warns the early Christians converted from Judaism not to yield to their constant temptation to return to the observances of the Mosaic Laws. He reminds them that they will be saved only by acknowledging the risen Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The graphic temptations of Jesus described by Matthew and Luke in their Gospels are pictorial and dramatic representations of the inner struggle against a temptation that Jesus experienced throughout his public life. The devil was trying to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission, mainly through a temptation to become the political Messiah of Jewish expectations, and to use his Divine power to avoid suffering and death.

Life Messages:1) We need to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed: Like Jesus, every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, and is drawn to the use of unjust or sinful means to attain good ends. Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations through prayer, penance and the effective use of the ‘‘word of God.” Temptations make us true warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. We are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: "The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Hence during Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies with prayer (especially by participating in the Holy Mass), with penance and with the meditative reading of the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible prepares us for the moment of temptation by enabling us "to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day," as William Barclay puts it.2) We need to grow in holiness during Lent by prayer, reconciliation and sharing. We become resistant and even immune to temptations as we grow healthier in soul by following the traditional Lenten practices: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him and listening to Him; b) by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives by uniting ourselves with God both by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by forgiving those who have hurt us and asking forgiveness of those whom we have hurt; and  c) by sharing our love with others through our selfless and humble service, our almsgiving and our helping of those in need.

LENT 1 [C] (Feb 14): Dt: 26: 4-10, Rom 10:8-13, Lk 4: 1-13

Anecdote: # 1: The Exorcist: Because of the book and movie, The Exorcist, there is probably more talk about the Devil than ever. The movie earned even more than The Godfather - $180 million. For blocks people lined up, waiting to enter the theaters. The movie was so frightening that one theater operator reported that, at each showing, there were four blackouts, six vomiting spells, and many spontaneous departures during the show. Today, we are pre-occupied with the Devil. In New Jersey, a twenty-year old lad persuaded his two best friends to drown him because he believed that upon death he would be reborn as a leader of forty legions of devils. In San Francisco, there are 10,000 dues-paying members of a church of Satan. In The Exorcist, we see how terrible it is to be possessed by the Devil and how hard it is to get the Devil out of a person. The film tells the story of how a twelve-year old girl was possessed by the Devil, how unsuccessful every attempt was to cure her, and how two priests were brought in to perform an exorcism in the Name of Jesus and with His power. So horrible is it to be possessed by the Devil that the movie was considered a horror movie, leaving viewers with psychological trauma. Our real concern today should not be how to get the Devil out of us, but how to keep the Devil out. Even if we get the Devil out of us, we may not be permanently free of the Devil. Recently, someone asked me what would happen if one did not pay one's Exorcist. I did not know. He told me, "You will be repossessed!" In today's Gospel, Jesus' challenge was to keep Satan from entering Him. We see Jesus confronted by the Devil and watch Jesus refuse to allow the Devil to come into his life and thinking. Today, we need to study the methods of Jesus that we, too, may keep the Devil out!

# 2: The Satan Seller: Mike Warnke, known as "America’s Number One Christian Comedian," has sold three million copies of the story of his life, The Satan Seller, where he explains how he escaped from Satan's trap. He has appeared on The 700 Club, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Focus on the Family, and ABC’s 20/20.Warnke’s Gospel ministry is based on the story he tells of his involvement with Satanism. The Satan Sellernarrates the story of a young orphan boy raised in foster homes, who joined a secret, satanic cult with fifteen hundred followers in three major cities. First, he descended into the hell of drug addiction, and then he ascended in the satanic ranks to the position of the high priest. He had unlimited wealth and power at his disposal, provided by members of Satanism’s highest echelon, the Illuminati. Then, after his conversion to Christ, he described the basic concepts of Satanism, warning readers about the real danger of satanic temptations. Mike's story is a good commentary on today’s Gospel, which describes Jesus' confrontation with Satan.

# 3: From Eve to Buddha & Dr. Faustus:In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree to become like God. The devil (Mara) came to the Buddha as he sat in contemplation under the Boddhitree, tempting him to renounce the spiritual enrichment he sought by bombarding his mind with sensual pleasures of this world. Literature and films abound with stories of people who have sold their souls to Satan for temporary earthly pleasures.The classical example is Faustus, treated by Christopher Marlowe in The Tragic History of Dr. Faustus (1588) and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in Faust (Published: Part One, 1808, Part 2, 1833). Today’s Gospel passage describes Jesus’ temptations.

Introduction:Lent begins with a reflection on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The first readingdescribes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. In the second reading, St. Paul warns the early Christians converted from Judaism not to yield to their constant temptation to return to the observances of the Mosaic Laws. He reminds them that they will be saved only by acknowledging the risen Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The Church assigns temptation stories to the beginning of Lent because temptations come to everybody, not only to Jesus, and we seem almost genetically programmed to yield to them.  We are surrounded on all sides by temptations, and they have become so familiar to twenty-first century life that we scarcely notice them.

The first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy (26: 4-10), describes the ancient Jewish ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God during the harvest festival to thank Him for liberating His people from Egypt and for strengthening them during the years of their trials and temptations in the desert. The people would bow down in God's presence and hear the recital of the mighty acts of Yahweh in Jewish history. This ritual was performed annually as part of the Covenant renewal ceremony known as the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover and the day after the Seventh Sabbath which ended the seventh week after Passover; thus got the name Feast of Weeks], when the people formally declared their loyalty to the Covenant with Yahweh.

In his letter to the Romans (10: 8-13), Paul counsels the early Christian converts from Judaism not to yield to their temptation to go back to the practices of the Mosaic Law. Many of these early Christians insisted that Gentile converts to Christ needed to become Jews first and to keep the whole Jewish law for their "justification." But in today’s second reading, Paul teaches that none of us can achieve righteousness on our own. Hence, Paul argues that God offers us a share in Divine righteousness as grace -- a free gift -- to which we contribute nothing except our Faith in Christ’s Resurrection and our public acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We live out that acceptance through our Baptism and by using his ongoing gifts of grace in our later virtuous words and deeds. Thus Paul answers those who are tempted to dismiss the Resurrection and take from the Gospels only what seems most reasonable.

Exegesis:Forty days of fasting and prayer. The phrase “forty days” was the Hebrew way of expressing a long period of time. We find it used in the recounting of various incidents in Jewish history: a) forty days of rain in Noah’s time (Gn 7:1-23); b) forty days which Moses spent on the mountain with God (Ex 34:28); c) forty days during which the prophet Elijah traveled in the wilderness (II Kgs 19:8). The wilderness was probably a desert in Judea, perhaps the great deserts of Horeb or Sinai, where the children of Israel were tried for forty years, and where Moses and Elijah fasted forty days.

The temptations. Bible scholars interpret the graphic temptations of Jesus described by Matthew and Luke as a pictorial and dramatic representation of the inner struggle against a temptation that Jesus experienced throughout his public life. The devil was not trying to lure Jesus into some particular sin -- rather, he was trying to entice Jesus away from the accomplishment of his mission, mainly through a temptation to become the political Messiah of Jewish expectations and to use his Divine power to avoid suffering and death. The opposition, hostility and rejection which Jesus experienced were constant temptations for him to use His power as God's Son to overcome evil. The temptation story depicts Jesus as obedient to his Father’s will, refusing to be seduced into using his Divine power or authority wrongly. Each of the three temptations, according to the Fathers of the Church, represents an area in which humans regularly fail: the lust of the flesh (stones to bread), the lust of the eye and the heart (ruling over all kingdoms), and the pride of life (a spectacular leap from the Temple). Note that Jesus overcame these temptations through the knowledge of his identity, his purpose, and God's plan for human salvation.

The offensive and the defensive techniques employed:  The temptations to turn stones into bread, to worship Satan and to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple demonstrate three aspects of self-control: material, civil and spiritual. Likewise, they correspond with three levels of human blessings: 1) material goods, 2) political power and 3) spiritual powers. These, in turn, correspond to three human seductions: 1) If you will worship me, I will make you rich; 2) If you will worship me, I will give you political power; 3) If you will worship me, I will endow you with magical power. Jesus dismisses the temptations by references to Deuteronomy. "One does not live by bread alone" (8:3); "Worship the Lord your God"(6:13), and "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (6:16). Jesus used two powerful weapons against the temptations: the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture. First, Jesus was "full of the Holy Spirit," and the Spirit helped him to survive his temptations (Lk 4:1, 4:14, 4:18). Second, Jesus quoted Holy Scripture in response to all three temptations.

The first temptation: The first temptation was well-timed. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights. Since the people of Israel in the Old Testament had been miraculously fed by manna, why not the Son of God? Giving in to the temptation to make bread from a stone (vv. 2b-4), would, therefore, be analogous to Israel's failure to trust God for sustenance in the wilderness (Ex 16:3, Ex 16:4-5, Ex 16:20). This first temptation was not merely aimed at the urge to satisfy Jesus’ own physical hunger. It was also a temptation to ignore His real mission as Messiah and to respond to others’ physical needs alone, without, at the same time, showing them that the Kingdom of God is more than mere food and drink. Let us ask ourselves the same question: do we use the powers God has given us – physical, financial, mental, or spiritual – for our own satisfaction, comfort or enrichment, or for the well-being, spiritual as well as physical, of others in the community?

The second temptation: In the second test, Satan offers Jesus an easy way to establish the Kingdom of God on earth: enter the world of political power. The temptation to gain the kingdoms of the world by worshiping the devil (vv. 5-8) is analogous to Israel's temptation to worship other gods (Dt 6:13-15, Ex 32:4; Dt 9:16). The temptation for Jesus was whether he would opt for political power and success or choose the path that would lead to suffering, humiliation and death. Satan said: ""Worship me and it will all be yours." But this was really an invitation to accomplish His mission by dishonorable means: "If you are going to get along in this world, you need to compromise now and then." This temptation points to our subtle attraction to doing the right thing by using the wrong means. Jesus answered Satan: "It is written, 'Thou shall worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.'" (Dt 6:13).

The third temptation: Luke ironically presents Jesus’ third temptation as taking place on the pinnacle of the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life.This is analogous to Israel's testing of God at Massah and Meribah (Ex 17:3, 17:7, Dt 6:16). In this final temptation, Jesus was urged to doubt God. Satan suggested that Jesus should put God to the test: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” trusting in Divine protection as promised in Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus responded by quoting another text from Deuteronomy: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Dt 6:16), which refers to an incident in which "the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'" (Ex 17:7). Sometimes we become angry with God when He fails to respond to tests we set up for Him. The test may be something like this: "If my husband is healed of cancer, then I'll know God loves me." "If my boy comes back safely from Iraq, I’ll know God is on my side." "If I get the job that I’ve been praying for, I’ll know that God cares about me." Jesus teaches us that the Spirit-filled life requires unconditional surrender to God's will.

'Bye for the time being:The devil departed from him for a time: The Holy Spirit, Who brought Jesus safely through the temptation and empowered him for his ministry, would later fill the disciples and empower the Church (Acts 2:4). However, the temptation story ends with the ominous statement that the devil departed from him until a more opportune time. That “time” came at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. It came again whenever people demanded signs from him to prove who he was (Lk 11:16, 29-32; 22:3, 54-62; 23:35-39). Ultimately, it came in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.

Life Messages: 1) We need to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed: Like Jesus, every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and positions of authority, and is drawn to the use of unjust or sinful means to attain good ends. Jesus sets a model for conquering temptations through prayer, penance and the effective use of the ‘‘word of God.” Temptations make us true warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. We are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: "The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Hence, during Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies with prayer (especially by participating in the Holy Mass), penance and the meditative reading of the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible prepares us for the moment of temptation by enabling us "to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day," as William Barclay puts it.

2) We need to grow in holinessduring Lent by prayer, reconciliation and sharing.We become resistant and even immune to temptations as we grow healthier in soul by following the traditional Lenten practices: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him and listening to Him; b) by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives, uniting ourselves with God both by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by forgiving those who have hurt us and asking forgiveness of those whom we have hurt; and   c) by sharing our love with others through our selfless and humble service, our almsgiving and our helping of those in need.

3) We need to be on guard against veiled temptations: Let us remember that even Spirit-filled, sanctified and vibrant Christians are still subject to the Original Temptation of Eve: "You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil” (Gn 3:5). We are tempted to give ourselves godlike status and treat others as our subordinates. Consequently, we resent every limitation of our freedom and vigorously deny the fact that we are dependent others. We don't want to be responsible for the consequences of our choices. We are also tempted to accomplish honorable goals by less-than-honorable means such as the use of lotteries to help schools, or casinos to provide jobs for Native Americans, thus setting traps for the most vulnerable members of our society. These are veiled temptations to accomplish good ends by bad means. We are also tempted to fraternize with people of questionable character. Our temptation to adopt pop culture in liturgical services ultimately leads to trivialization of the worship service.

 

(Prepared by Fr. Tony (akadavil@gmail.com) for CBCI

 

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