March 5, 2017
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Very Rev. J. Gerard Schreck, JCD
The First Sunday of Lent
The Temptation of Jesus
A man began his Lent by declaring to all in his office that he was going to lose weight. And he was really serious this time. His coworkers didn’t believe him, but he was determined. He planned his strategy. He even decided that he would change his route to work each day so that he would not pass by Dunkin Donuts. They were his weakness. On the Monday following Ash Wednesday he inadvertently found himself driving his old route and passing the Dunkin Donuts. When he arrived at work he walked into the office with a huge box of donuts. His coworkers laughed at him and said “we knew you couldn’t do it.” He said, “No no no. You don’t understand. I mistakenly passed by the store and I saw that beautiful display of donuts. But I didn’t stop. I prayed: “Lord, if you really want me to have those donuts then find me a parking spot right in front of the store.” And sure enough, on my ninth time around the block, there it was!
On Ash Wednesday we were signed with ashes, as a reminder of our mortality…”and unto dust you shall return.” But even more than that, we proclaimed for all to see that we know we are sinners, fallible creatures, and we are in need of a Savior. On this first Sunday of Lent the scriptures invite us to acknowledge the root cause of our predicament and the beginning of sin. Adam and Eve in the garden could eat of the fruit of any tree, including the tree of life. It was only the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they were forbidden to eat. And so the Tempter approaches them and seduces them with the argument that God didn’t want them to eat of that fruit because then they would be like God. He said that they themselves could become God, be self-sufficient, be powerful, and be in control. The temptation was to deny the fact that they were creatures. It was the great lie…pretend that you are something that you are not.
The late Jesuit author Fr. John Kavanaugh, in reflecting on this passage, says concisely: “There is a little bit of the fake in every one of us.” We have inherited from Adam and Eve the pretense and the great lie of Eden. Just recently, millions of people watched the annual Hollywood ritual of The Oscars. Now Hollywood can do great things when it wants to. There is no doubt about that. But Hollywood also puts on display a great deal of pretense. There on display is great wealth, but vastly disproportionate to the work done. There is beauty and youth, which is only temporary and aided by an army of makeup artists and plastic surgeons. There is fame, but every actor knows that he is only as noteworthy as his last successful film.
We are all heirs of the sin of Adam and Eve. We all pretend. I am afraid that if people really knew me as I am, they would not like me, would not respect me, would not admire me. And so, I pretend. I misrepresent. I assume a persona. I attempt to control anyone and everything around me. I buy anything that will make me feel important, respected, smart, beautiful and loved. But we know, from Socrates, that the key to wisdom (and to maturity) is to “know thyself.” I must learn to accept myself as I am.
Jesus came into the world. He was a great teacher, to be sure. He was a miracle worker, no doubt. He was the leader of a great movement, we could say. But much more than that, Jesus was, as John the Baptist said, “The Lamb of God.” Jesus came into the world to suffer and die for the salvation of sinners. He never forgot that, and he never wavered from it. And He was tempted by Satan. If you are the Son of God, there is no need for you to be hungry or thirsty. Turn these stones into bread. Have anything you want. Consume anything you want! And He replies: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Satan takes him to the parapet of the temple and says: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” Create a miracle. Do not be vulnerable before the forces of nature. God will protect you. And He replies: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Finally, Satan says: “If you worship me, I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth!” And He replies: “The Lord your God shall you worship, and Him alone shall you serve.” At every turn He refused to forget who he was, the suffering servant of God. Bishop Robert Barron notes that Satan took Jesus to the parapet of the Temple. It was only a short distance from there to Calvary, the place where Jesus would be lifted up and fulfill his mission as the Lamb of God, the Lamb of Sacrifice.
So what does it mean for me? It says to me that I should not forget who I am. I am a human being, not God. I am created by God, and certainly not God. I am made in his image and likeness, and through Jesus Christ, the Savior, I have been made an heir to the Kingdom of heaven.
And so, I can allow myself to hunger and thirst. I can accept my limits, without seeking to buy and consume and use something to make me feel important. I can trust that God will provide all that I need. I can give generously from what I have received.
I can accept that I am vulnerable before the forces of sickness, accident and even death itself. I can let go of the need to control, because it is God’s will that matters, not mine. I can continue to trust that all things will work for the good for those who love God.
I can make myself small, anonymous, insignificant, and sometimes unappreciated, because I know that only God is holy and only God is to be worshipped, not me.
Fr. John Kavanaugh concludes his reflection upon this Gospel reading in this way: “The great lie of Eden has been replaced by the truth of Gethsemane.” In the example of Jesus Christ, our Savior, we see what it means to reject the lie and the pretense of Satan. By God’s grace and by the Holy Spirit, we can say with Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”