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YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT
HOMILY THEME: TEMPTATION
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
HOMILY: William loved to eat all the time. He promised his mother that in the season of Lent he would discipline himself through fasting by eating less.
Unfortunately, he could not keep to his promise, but spent most of his time in the kitchen looking for something to eat. There was a time when he woke up in the middle of the night looking for more food, even when he had eaten three hours before then. When his mother asked: “William, what are you doing in the kitchen?” He answered, “I’m here fighting temptation.”
In some ways, we can all identify and sympathise with little William as he grapples temptation. It came to a point when he was fighting temptation in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and perhaps with the wrong intention. I can understand why an Evangelist says, “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”
Obviously, William wanted to stop the bad habit of eating too frequently, but he could not, or summon the will power to stay away from the source of the temptation. Just like William, we often wish to moderate our attachment to the world, but we get ourselves so entangled with the world, to the extent that we become far away from having any deep encounter with God.
It is not surprising that just before his public ministry, Jesus chose to go to the wilderness in order to detach himself from the world and to spend some quality time with God. The bible depicts wilderness as a land with no water, no houses, harsh weather condition and hardly any rainfall. Wilderness often has a negative connotation referring to a dangerous place, a place of test and a sojourn of evil spirits.
The book of Deuteronomy describes the wilderness as a land vast and terrible with seraph serpents and scorpions, and a place of parched and waterless land (8:15). The harsh condition of the wilderness became a place of test for the people of Israel.
The harsh conditions of the place made them lose patience and they asked Moses a rebellious question: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:11) At the end, the people acknowledged the wonders of the Lord during their days of difficulties in the wilderness. They later realised and appreciated the fact that they were able to survive the wilderness and reach the Promised Land through the Lord’s strong hand and outstretched arm, and with his terrifying power, with signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 26:8).
The New Testament shows that the wilderness could be a beneficial place for a deep spiritual life and at the same time a place of temptations. For example, John the Baptist lived an austere life in the wilderness, perhaps he found it beneficial for profound meditation and deep encounter with God; However, despite the serenity of the wilderness, the Devil was there to tempt Jesus to succumb to the attractions of the world.
The devil came to Jesus at a very critical point, when he was hungry and offered him bread to eat. In a situation like that, we would naturally expect Jesus to grab the bread and satisfy his hunger. On the contrary, Jesus quoted the Scriptures to remind the devil that ‘A human person must not live by Bread alone, but rather by the word that comes from the mouth of God. This statement is a reminder to us that physical and material pleasures are not really what give us deep satisfaction and fulfilment, but that it is the hunger and thirst for God that gives true fulfilment.
The second temptation, which Jesus experienced, was that of gaining popularity (celebrity). The devil says, throw yourself down from the parapet of the temple and your name will be recorded in the book of great historical achievements. Jesus told him, this was not necessary and we must not put the Lord to the test simply because we want some cheap popularity. The third temptation of Jesus was that of acquisition of power and material things. The devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and its splendour. I will give you these, he said, if you fall at my feet and worship me. At this point, Jesus rebuked him and said ‘Be off Satan! For scripture says, you must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone. There are people who, for the sake of the pursuit of material gain, have abandoned their faith and the Christian values. Jesus constantly reminds us: ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36).
Temptations are the inner desires deep within our minds, which entice us to do evil. Every act of wrongdoing begins with a thought. There is a constant battle in our minds between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit.
Often, we find ourselves repeating some bad habits, which we have promised to give up. This is a situation, which I call ‘Frequently Repeated Falls’ (FRF). The Apostle Paul fell into such difficulty in his life time and he exclaimed in frustration: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). We find ourselves struggling to move on but there certain sins that inhibit us and keep us backwards such as anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, hatred, etc.
The devil tests us in different ways, through suffering, sickness, weakness, poverty and through difficulties and challenges of life. In order to confront the devil like Jesus, we also ought to cultivate the habit of prayer and fasting in order to build our relationship with God. The Holy season of Lent offers us a special opportunity to make some sacrifice, to share with others and to spend more time on our knees in prayer. A British Poet William Cowper (1731-1800) said: Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Saints upon their knees.
1st Sunday of Lent, C/ Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13