Lent I [A] Homily on Mt 4:1-11 (L/17)
Introduction: Lent is primarily the time of intense spiritual preparation for conquering our temptations using the means Jesus used during his forty days of preparation in the desert for his public life. It is also the time for renewing our lives for the celebration of Easter with our Risen Lord who conquered sin and death by his suffering, death and Resurrection. Today’s readings teach us that we are always tempted by the devil, by the world and by our own selfish interests. So we need to cooperate actively with God’s grace to conquer our temptations.
Scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from the book of Genesis describes the “Original Temptation” – “You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil.” Adam and Eve were given the possibility of making a choice to live for God, dependent upon and obedient to His will, or to say no to God. The temptation to evil led Adam and Eve to an act of faithlessness and sin. In contrast, today’s Gospel from St. Matthew shows us how Jesus Christ conquered temptation by relying on Faith in God’s Word and authority. In the second reading, St. Paul describes how the disobedience of Adam, who fell to Satan’s Original Temptation, brought him and us death and a broken relationship with God. Paul explains that Christ regained for us the right relationship with God by his perfect obedience to God his Father. Today’s Gospel teaches us how the “desert experience” of fasting, praying, and soul-strengthening enabled Jesus to confront his temptations successfully and then to preach the Good News of salvation. The tempter urges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. But Jesus rejects that temptation to reduce his Divine mission to satisfying his own immediate, temporal needs. The tempter then suggests that Jesus prove that he is really the Son of God by jumping off the parapet of the temple. Jesus rejects the temptation to put God to a test. Finally, Jesus rejects the temptation to idolatry, even if that worship would enrich and empower him with all kingdoms of the world.
Life messages: 1) We are to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed. Every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, power and glory, and to use any means, even unjust or sinful ones, to gain these things. Jesus serves as a model for us in conquering temptations by strengthening himself through prayer, penance and the effective use of the Word of God. Hence, during this Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies with prayer (especially by participating in the holy Mass), with penance and with meditative reading of the Bible. 2) We are to grow in holiness by prayer, reconciliation and sharing during Lent: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him in fervent prayer and listening to Him through the meditative reading of the Bible; b) by being reconciled with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reconciled with others by asking their forgiveness for our offenses against them; c) by sharing our love with others through selfless and humble service, almsgiving and helping those in need.
LENT I [A] Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11
Anecdote # 1: Alluring music of the Sirens: In Greek mythology, the Sirens are creatures with the heads of beautiful women and the bodies of attractive birds. They lived on an island (Sirenum scopuli; three small rocky islands) and, with the irresistible charm of their song, they lured mariners to their destruction on the rocks surrounding their island (Homer’s Odyssey XII, 39-54, 158-200; Virgil’s Aeneid V, 42-44; Ovid’s Metamorphoses XIV, 88-89). They sang so sweetly that all who sailed near their home in the sea were fascinated and drawn to the shore only to be destroyed. When Odysseus, the hero in the Odyssey, passed that enchanted spot he had himself tied to the mast and put wax in the ears of his comrades, so that they might not hear the luring and bewitching strains. But King Tharsius chose a better way. He took the great Greek singer and lyrist Orpheus along with him. Orpheus took out his lyre and sang a song so clear and ringing that it drowned the sound of those lovely, fatal voices of sirens. The best way to break the charm of this world’s alluring voices during Lent is not trying to shut out the music by plugging our ears, but to have our hearts and lives filled with the sweeter music of prayer, penance, the word of God, self-control, and acts of charity. Then temptations will have no power over us (RH).
# 2: “On the ninth trip around the block, there it was!” A comical, but illustrative, story shows us how adept we are at rationalizing our actions: A very overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route to the office in order to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated coffee cake. His office mates roundly chided him, but he only smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “What could I do? This is a very special cake. This morning, from force of habit, I accidentally drove by my favorite bakery. There in the window were trays of the most delicious goodies. I felt that it was no accident that I happened to pass by, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you really want me to have one of these delicious coffee cakes, let me find a parking place in front of the bakery.’ Sure enough, on the ninth trip around the block, there it was!” Temptation is strong, but we must be stronger. We should not tempt fate and we should not rationalize our actions.
# 3: Temptation to keep large carnivores as pets: Antoine Yates lived in New York City and for some inexplicable reason brought home a 2-month-old tiger cub and later an alligator. It’s not clear where he found them. But they were with him for two years — in his apartment. What was a little tiger cub, became a 500 pound Bengal tiger monstrosity. It was inevitable. The police got a call about a “dog” bite and when they got to the 19-story public housing apartment building, they discovered Yates in the lobby with injuries to his right arm and leg. Someone alerted them of the possibility of a “wild animal” at his apartment. A fourth-floor resident complained that urine had seeped through her ceiling from Yates’ apartment. When they arrived, the police peered through a hole and saw the huge cat prowling around in the apartment. To make a long story short, it took a contingent of officers at the door, and some rappelling from the roof to use a dart gun to bring this animal under control. When they entered the apartment, they found the big cat lying atop some newspapers. The alligator was nearby. Both animals were relocated to shelters. As for Yates, he missed his tiger and alligator, demonstrating that it’s possible to be in love with the very things that can kill you. That is what happens to those who entertain temptations in the form of evil thoughts and desires, evil habits and addictions. (US/Northeast/10/04/nyc.tiger/)
Introduction: Ours is a vibrant culture, always in pursuit of happiness. Death is an obscenity, hidden by cascades of flowers and relegated to remote burial lawns on the edge of town. Sin is denied, camouflaged, psychoanalyzed, and repressed—not confessed. We don’t really sin. We make mistakes of judgment. If a popular politician lies, he or she is only being human. Lent is a time to look at such temptations, sin and the consequences. Originally Lent was the season when those about to be baptized repented of their sins and sought to know the Lord Jesus more intimately. Then it became a season for the baptized to do the same. We are challenged to die to sin so that we may rise again to the new life in Christ. Since the Church begins the season with a reflection on the origins of sin among us, the main themes in today’s readings are temptation, sin, guilt and forgiveness. We are told of the temptations offered to our Lord, submission to which would have destroyed his mission. Today’s readings give us the notion that testing comes to us by an agency apart from and in opposition to God. But the truth is that, while testing comes from the outside, temptation comes from within ourselves. However, the good news is that, though we are tempted and often succumb, God’s grace provides the way of salvation for us. The ultimate temptations in life are NOT those that only push us to “do” things we aren’t supposed to “do”; rather they are the ones that push us to “be” persons we weren’t made to be.
The first reading from the book of Genesis (Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7) describes the “Original Temptation” – “You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil.” This is the story of the first sin, symbolized by the eating of the forbidden fruit. It tells us that Adam and Eve were given the possibility of making a choice. The fundamental choice was to live for God, dependent upon and obedient to His will, or to say no to God. Like Adam and Eve, we are all tempted to put ourselves in God’s place. Consequently, we resent every limit on our freedom, and we don’t want to be held responsible for the consequences of our choices. In Genesis, we witness how temptation to evil led Adam and Eve to an act of faithlessness and sin. In contrast, today’s Gospel from St. Matthew shows us how Jesus Christ conquered temptation by relying on Faith in God’s Word and authority.
The second reading (Rom 5:12-19): St. Paul describes how the disobedience of Adam who fell to Satan’s Original Temptation brought him and us death and a broken relationship with God. Paul reminds us of the social consequences of sin. Sin is never a private affair, affecting only myself. When we sin, all our relationships are affected: our relationship with our inner self, our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our relationship with our God and our relationship with nature and the world in which we live. Paul says that just as sin and death came through Adam, salvation and life come through Christ. Christ regained for us the right relationship with God that Paul calls justification, which comes to us as undeserved grace.
Today’s Gospel (Matthew 4: 1-11) teaches us how the “desert experience” of fasting, praying, and soul-strengthening was a kind of spiritual “training camp” for Jesus which enabled him to confront his temptations successfully and then to preach the Good News of salvation. The Gospel also prescribes a dual action plan for Lent: (1) We should confront our temptations and conquer them as Jesus did, by fasting, prayer and the Word of God. (2) We should renew our lives by true repentance and live the Good News of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
Exegetical notes: (A) Forty days of fasting and prayer: “Forty days” was a Hebrew expression meaning a considerable period of time, as seen in various incidents in Jewish history: a) the 40 days of rain in Noah’s time which Noah spent in the ark in prayer; b) the 40 days which Moses spent on the mountain with God (Ex. 24:18); c) the 40 days the prophet Elijah traveled on the strength of the meal which the angel had given him (II Kg. 19:8).
(B) The temptations. The graphic descriptions of the temptations of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke are sometimes interpreted as the dramatic presentation of a single temptation Jesus experienced throughout his public life. The devil was trying to entice Jesus away from his mission so that he could become, instead, a political messiah of power and fame according to the Jewish expectation, while using His Divine power to avoid suffering and death. In this account, we are given a glimpse of the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced the question of how to accomplish his mission. Matthew presents Jesus as conquering the tempter and beginning his preaching in Galilee. The first temptation has to do with Jesus’ own need for food. The second temptation involves a wider circle in Jerusalem and the Temple. Finally, the third temptation takes in the whole world. Matthew saw the sequence of the three temptations as significant in that they moved to greater heights, from stones on ground level, to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and finally to a mountain top from which all the kingdoms of the earth could be surveyed. The progression was also greater intensity and scope, from personal food to power in Israel and then to rule of the whole world.
The gradation in temptations: The three temptations – turn stones into bread (4:3); jump off the Temple pinnacle (4:6); worship Satan (4:9) – demonstrate three kinds of control: material, spiritual and civil. They correspond to three wrong evaluations: 1) those who have material resources are blessed by God; 2) those who have spiritual powers are blessed by God; 3) those who have national power are blessed by God. These, in turn, correspond to three human-divine bargains: 1) I will worship You if you make me rich; 2) I will worship You if You endow me with magical powers; and 3) I will worship You if You give me political power. These temptations of Jesus are traditionally treated as archetypes of the temptations we experience: the temptation to satisfy personal needs by material possessions, the temptation to perform miraculous deeds by spiritual power and the temptation to seek political power and social influence by evil means. But Jesus dismisses all three temptations using the Word of God. He quotes the Law from Scripture itself: “One does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3); “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (6:16); “Worship the Lord, your God” (6:13).
The first temptation: Is it possible to fast forty days and live to tell the tale? The New York Times says the average person can go for thirty days without eating. Gandhi and the Irish prisoners in British jails in Belfast fasted even longer. Mitch Snyder, the US advocate for the homeless, fasted fifty-one days. The first temptation could not have been better timed. Jesus had been fasting for forty days. He was entitled to eat. Even Israel in the Old Testament was miraculously fed with manna. Why not the Son of God? “Turn these stones into loaves of bread. Use your power to satisfy your physical need. You are entitled to food after a forty-day fast.” The temptation was that Jesus use the miraculous powers God had given Him to use for His mission to provide for himself. This first temptation of Jesus was not merely the urge to satisfy his hunger by some miraculous deed. It also had implications as to how Jesus would respond to the physical needs of others, especially their need for food. Matthew tells us, for example, that Jesus miraculously fed a multitude of people (14:13-21 and 15:32-39). Jesus would be seen as the Messiah who provided for their pressing needs.
The very seat of religious life, namely, the sacred precincts of the Temple itself became the scene of the second temptation. The devil was suggesting that, on the basis of Scripture, Jesus must believe in and insist on Divine protection: if He were the Son of God He had the right to expect safety and protection from His heavenly Father. Here Jesus is pressured either to identify Himself as God’s Son and Messiah, or to discredit His mission by apparently either denying His trust in God, the truth of Scripture or His own right to speak in God’s Name. An additional temptation for Jesus was to use his miraculous powers to amaze people and thereby attract followers.
In the third temptation, the devil wanted Jesus to enter the world of political power to establish his kingdom of God instead of choosing the path that would lead to suffering, humiliation and death. It was a temptation to do the right thing using the wrong means. Jesus was being tempted to win the world by worshipping the devil. Why not compromise a bit? Why not strike a deal with the evil powers? Spirit-filled, sanctified, spiritually vibrant Christians are still subject to the same temptation. We need companionship, acceptance, the approval of others, love and appreciation. We are tempted to fulfill these legitimate needs using the wrong means.
(C) The preaching: The Greek word used for preaching is kerussein meaning a herald’s proclamation of his king’s message. Jesus’ preaching bore the note of authority, certainty and reliability – as coming from God his Father.
(D) Call to repentance: Metánoia the Greek word used in Matthew for repentance, meant a change of mind which included being sorry for sin and its consequences, and turning away from sinful thoughts, words and deeds, thus reversing our life-direction from ourselves to God.
(E) The message: believe in the Good News: “Believe” meant accept Jesus’ words as truth, based on his authority as the Son of God. The content of Jesus’ message was called Good News because it corrected the incorrect Jewish belief (and the bad news), that God was an angry, demanding and punishing judge, and taught the Good News that God is a loving, merciful and forgiving Father who wants to save every one from the bondage of sin through His Son. Hence, St. Paul calls it Good News of hope (Col.1: 23), peace (Eph.6: 15), promise (Eph.3: 6), immortality (Tim.1: 10) and salvation (Eph.1: 13).
Life messages: 1) We are to confront and conquer temptations as Jesus did, using the means he employed. Every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, power and glory, and to use any means, even unjust or sinful ones, to gain these things. Jesus serves as a model for us in conquering temptations by strengthening himself through prayer, penance and the active use of the Word of God. Temptations make us more powerful warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. By constantly struggling against temptations, we become stronger. Each time one is tempted to do evil but does good, one becomes stronger. Further, we are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: “Greater is the one who is in us, than the one who is in the world (1 John 4: 4). We may be strengthened by St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No testing has overtaken you, that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Hence, during this Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies by prayer (especially by participating in the Holy Mass), by penance and by meditative reading of the Bible.
2) We are to grow in holiness by prayer, reconciliation and sharing during Lent: a) by finding time to be with God every day of Lent, speaking to Him in fervent prayer and listening to Him through the meditative reading of the Bible; b) by repenting of our sins daily and asking God’s forgiveness every night at bedtime; c) by being reconciled with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; d) by being reconciled with others, forgiving them the hurts they have caused us and asking their pardon for the hurts we have inflicted on them; e) by sharing our love with others through selfless and humble service, almsgiving and helping those in need; f) by living the Gospel or the Good News of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives, thus bearing true Christian witness.
3) Lent is the time for the desert experience. We can set aside a place and time to be alone daily with God, a time to distance ourselves from the many noises that bombard our lives every day, a time to hear God’s word, a time to rediscover who we are before God and a time to say yes to God and no to Satan as Jesus did.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
“I gave them up for Lent.” A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. “Give me your money,” the young man said. The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. “Oh, I’m sorry, Father,” said the young man, “I didn’t see your collar. I don’t want YOUR money.” Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. “Here,” he said. “Have a cigar.” “Oh, no, I can’t do that,” the young man replied, “I gave them up for Lent.”
Making peace with his penance: A priest spied a parishioner enjoying some tasty smoked sausage on Friday during Lent — a strict no-no in the church. The priest, being a pragmatic soul, told the man for his penance he was to bring a load of lumber to the church to help repair the roof. The man grumbled, but went off to do his penance. He arrived at the church on the next Friday and proceeded to dump a huge load of sawdust into the parking lot. “What’s this?” the priest wanted to know. “I told you your penance was a load of lumber, not sawdust.” The man replied cooly, “Well, if that sausage I ate was meat, then this sawdust is lumber.”
Just have a beer: A man took his young son to a baseball game. While they were sitting there, he asked the boy what he was going to give up for Lent. The boy replied, “I don’t know, Dad. What are you going to give up?”
His father said, “I’ve thought about this a lot and decided to give up liquor.”
Later in the game, the beer man came by, and the man ordered a beer. His son objected, “Hey, I thought you were giving up liquor!” His dad answered, “Hard liquor, son. I’m giving up hard liquor. This is just a beer.” To which the boy replied, “Well then, I’m giving up hard candy.”