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First Sunday in Lent
 March 12, 2000 
Fr. Sisterman —Saint Dunstan's Church
 Readings: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 and Matthew 4:1-11 
"Scripture has it, 'You shall do homage to the Lord your God. Him alone shall you  adore.'"  

The other day I was reading in the newspaper a little filler inserted into the paper about a  person who was celebrating his 100th birthday. And it is obviously always necessary for a  reporter to go out to somebody who is celebrating his 100th birthday and ask him, "To  what does he attribute his long life?" And this man's response was rather interesting. He  simply said, "I never wanted to waste any time resisting temptation. There was another  writer, an English writer, that said, "I can resist anything - except temptation." That was  Oscar Wilde. 

Today we have to talk about temptation because this is what our Gospel reading is about.  And first of all, we have to deal with the idea, "Is this really something that happened to  Jesus?" It is narrated in Matthew and Mark and Luke that Jesus was led into the desert by  the Spirit. He was tempted. And He defeated Satan. Was it really something that happened  to Jesus? I mean, was he really led to the pinnacle of the temple and placed there? And said,  "Go ahead, jump off." How could He see all of the kingdoms of the world from a high  mountain? Or was it rather something else that the writers of Scripture had in mind in  giving us this narrative. 

We know, for example, and we must never forget that indeed Jesus was tempted. In the  Letter to the Hebrews we read: "For we do not have a high priest who was unable to  sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are and,  yet, never sinned" (Heb.4:15). In another place, also in the Letter to the Hebrews, we read,  "Since He was Himself tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are  tempted" (Heb. 2.18). And so. He was indeed tempted. But how do we get a handle on  just exactly what this temptation was all about? 

We have to begin with the way that Jesus is presented to us in the Gospel. He is, for us,  many different things. And we can attribute to Him many different titles. Jesus is the New  Adam. This is the new creation. It is as though God was starting all over again with Christ.  Jesus is also the personification of the People of God, Israel. He is the new Israel; the  Church is the new Israel. If we can understand that, then we can see how today's Gospel  event fits with Jesus' being someone who is entirely new. Jesus did not succumb to His  temptations, but rather defeated the evil one. 

When did this happen? It happened right after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John. Then  He went to the desert and spent forty days and forty nights. The parallel with what  happened in the Old Testament is not accidental because, as you remember, the people of  Israel, when they left Egypt, went through the water of the Red Sea and then entered the  wilderness for forty years before they entered the promised land. For forty days and forty  nights, it says, Jesus fasted and prayed; then He was tempted. 

What were these temptations? "You're hungry. Why don't you do something about it?  You've got the power. Feed yourself. Just change these rocks here into loaves of bread.  You've got plenty to eat. Do what you need to do." The people of Israel had that same kind  of temptation in the desert and they succumbed to it. Remember when they were all sitting  around out there in the wilderness complaining to Moses, "What did you bring us out into  this God-forsaken desert for? I mean, we had it nice in Egypt. We could sit around our  flesh pots and eat bread. We weren't hungry. What did you bring us out into this  wilderness for?" Moses speaks these words to the people of Israel at that time: "Not by  bread alone are you to live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."  Another time, as you know, the people of Israel were tempted sorely to adopt Canaanite  practices, erecting a golden calf, a false god, to worship. They were reminded that they  were not to do this. It was God alone whom they were to worship and adore. Another  time, they were thirsty. Their thirst was quenched by a miracle. Moses struck the rock and  out of the rock flowed water. He had taken care of their thirst. 

The people of Israel who had fallen, who had succumbed to temptation, are held up to us  as an example to contrast with what Jesus did, because He faced the same temptations. As  the new Israel, He defeated them. The temptation was always this for Jesus, "Why don't  you use this power and take care of yourself?" This was a temptation that would dog Jesus'  footsteps throughout His life. It would have been so easy for Him to do some of the things  that He could do just in order to make the work a little easier. There is nothing like  something spectacular, "Take a swan dive off the pinnacle of the temple and then you're  saved. You'll have people flocking to you. What an easy way out." 

But Jesus said, "No, this is not My way." "If you're hungry, with just a word, you can do  whatever you want." Jesus said in one place, "My food is to do the will of My Father who  sent me. I'm not here to do My own will." 

It would have been so easy. Wasn't He sent here in order to gather all into one under God?  Wouldn't it have been easy to just say, "Well, maybe we can just take some shortcuts and  have this happen." Instead, He chose to win His kingdom by His blood on the cross.  There He would reign as king. But it could have been so easy for Him. When we hear  about these temptations, when we visualize what Jesus was involved with, we can see that  there is something else here. Jesus is the new Israel. If Israel had failed in the desert, Jesus  is victorious. What has that really got to do with us? It might be a bit presumptuous to say,  "Well, as Jesus did those things, so can we. But we don't go wrestle with Satan during  Lent, quote Scripture, and beat him." I don't think that's really what God has in mind.  Rather this: if Jesus was tempted to use His own power for His own sake, that is a  temptation that you and I are faced with all of the time. Do we use the gifts that God has  given us for our own self-aggrandizement or do we use those gifts for the honour and glory  of God? 

Recently, there was an article in Time Magazine about secondary education, about why  people go to college. They interviewed 240,000 students in this survey. Three-fourths of  those interviewed said that the main reason they went to college was to make money. That  was the reason: for self. We think we can look at the decade of the 80s and say that it was  the "me" decade. "The well's there, and, by gosh, there's not that much water in it and I'm  going to get mine". We can point fingers of blame and all that. It really doesn't do us a  whole lot of good. Rather, what we ought to be able to see is that we can be the kind of  people that can use what God has given us for our own purposes, for our own selves.  Would Jesus say "That's wrong!" to those students that said, "Well, the reason I'm here in  college is to make a lot of money?" No, I don't think He would. I can wish you all the  wealth in the world. I hope you make more than J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers combined. I think it's fine, wonderful. More power to you to do that. However, when it  becomes the he-all and end-ail of your life, then you're succumbing to a temptation that is  really unhealthy and destructive. Wealth, in itself, is not anything evil or bad. It's what we  do with it and how we use it and how we go after it. If we seek wealth and stomp on  somebody else, then it's wrong. Then it's evil. If wealth is used merely for our own sake  and for our own self-gratification, then it's wrong. But to have wealth is not evil. 

We are tempted to say that there is something suspect whenever we perceive someone who  has more than we have. "They must have done something wrong to have all that. Look at  the way they're using their money, etc. etc." We could think all kinds of things like that  and succumb to a temptation. 

How do we use God's gifts? Lent is a season for reordering our priorities. Who and what  is first in our lives? Is Jesus Lord in all things in our lives? Or are there areas in our lives  where Jesus is still not sovereign? Where He is not Lord? He has to be Lord. We cannot  succumb to the temptation to install oneself as Lord. 

Each of us knows where we have to work during Lent, what we have to do in our own  lives. But each of us also knows that when we were baptized a long time ago, we were  baptized not merely to save our own souls (because if he who seeks to save his life is going  to lose it) but rather we were given that Baptismal life in order to tend and care for that little  patch of this world that is ours, that we do what is necessary, in that area of our lives, what  has to be done in order that it can be transformed according to the mind and heart of Christ  our Lord. This is the season to look at our lives, to make those judgements, and decide what  we are going to do and how we are going to do it. "Now is the acceptable time. This is the  day of salvation," Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians. This is the time. We  can let Lent slip by and, suddenly, it's Easter. And we can look back and we say, "you  know, nothing really changed this Lent. Nothing really happened." Wouldn't that be a pity!  That we haven't changed and that we aren't different! That the little world that is our little  patch of this world isn't different because of this Lent! We would have failed miserably. 

Lent is for change. Lent is for transformation. Lent is to prepare us for new life, for  resurrection. Indeed, is a season of grace. Take a look at the temptations that face you. Are  they the ones that move you away from God? Are they the ones that say to you, "Use what  you've got for your own self. The rest of the world be hanged." Or is this an opportunity  to say, "God has blessed me with many things. He has blessed me with gifts and talents.  These gifts and talents, I dedicate to my God, I give back to my God. This is the gift we  can offer this morning in this Eucharistic sacrifice. 

Thanks to St. Dunstan's Church and Fr. Sisterman.