Deuteronomy 26: 4-10 Romans 10:8-13 Luke 4: 1-3
It is the tradition of the Church to recall, on the First Sunday of Lent, one of the Gospel accounts of what is known as “The Temptations of Christ.” Before beginning his ministry, Jesus takes time to seek the solitude of the desert in order to reflect and to pray. During this time, as the Gospel accounts tell us, he is presented with questions, described as temptation, as to how best to carry on his ministry.
I have to admit that I often have listened to these accounts as a spectator. I have observed Jesus and his reactions as he is presented with these options. Perhaps, however, especially as we begin the Season ofLent, we can consider this event, within the context of Luke’s account, as a way of presenting to us questions on how we might respond to what we will hear and observe in the ministry of Jesus and, in particular, to his eventual death and resurrection which we recall some six weeks from now. This approach opens for us a source for our own thoughts during Lent. What options are presented to Jesus and how did he respond? What options do these suggest to us and how do we respond?
If we think of it, all that was put before Jesus were good in themselves. But the question is, does the manner in which they are used provide a revelation of God or merely the opportunity to satisfy a selfish desire. In itself, bread is a good thing to be fed when we are hungry. Authority gives the ability to bring about change. Protection from danger allows for a sense of security and reassurance.
What is the temptation in these? The temptation is to focus on a reliance on self rather than a reliance on the goodness of God. It is to think that to be fed, to bring about change, to be protected – these are things that I will do, I will accomplish on my own. The reality of God is ignored. Trust in God is discarded. It is me, and only me, that will provide these things.
We also heard a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy in which the Israelites were urged to recall their pain and suffering with which they contended while enslaved in Egypt. Then they were to remember that their deliverance from this status came about not through their own actions but by faith and trust in God. It was in gratitude for this that they were urged to make offerings from their abundance.
At the beginning of the Season of Lent we are challenged. This does not come simply from the image of Jesus confronting temptations. Rather we are to reflect on how we have been tempted, how we may have succumbed to temptation. We may have been tempted not to rely on the goodness of God being present with us in whatever hunger we might have or not to rely on a trust in the goodness of God to be with us in whenever development or growth or change encountered or not to rely on the goodness of God to safeguard us from genuine harm of mind and spirit.
Take time now to reflect on the past as the Israelites were called to do. Take time to recognize God’s presence with us now. Take time to respond, as Jesus did, with trust and confidence in the enduring presence of our good and gracious God.
Sirach 27: 4-7 1 Corinthians 15: 54-58 Luke 6: 39-45
Whether it is on a bumper sticker, or on a billboard, or on social media, we often encounter brief, pithy sayings or quotes that may suggest a bit of wisdom but which also may require both some reflection and some introspection. They may well encourage examining whether there is meaning and significance for ourselves in a particular quote we encounter.
What is put before us today by our God through the writings of inspired authors are just such brief and pithy quotes. They are full of meaning in themselves. But they are even more challenging in the response they call from us.
We hear, for example, from the author Sirach, who was writing about 200 years before Christ and who sought to blend the wisdom of the Mosaic tradition of the Jewish people within sights from Greek thought that was current at his time. He reminds us that a sieve sifts out what is on the outside to reveal the truth of what is on the inside; that the heat of a kiln melts away the imperfections, so that the true object that was molded could be revealed; and that the health of the fruit that can be seen gives evidence of he true health of the tree that bears it. Anyone of these sayings can be a source of long and hard reflection on how sincere and truthful we are in living out our relationship with God.
We hear from Saint Paul who emphasizes to the Corinthians and to us that what we profess by faith in the Resurrection means that the power and effect of sin and death has been overcome in us. There is no reason for defeat or despair on our part. Rather, we are strengthened in hope even in cases of failure and sin, because the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus prompts us to pick ourselves up and go on again. It prompts us to live in a way that reflects that we truly are a “Resurrection” people.
The sayings of Jesus which we have heard today are found elsewhere in other Gospel accounts. They are gathered hereby Saint Luke and are included in what is called the “Sermon on the Plain.” Each of them reflects a basic truth, and insight, into what Jesus Christ is revealing. Each tells of how one who accepts and lives his teaching is to conduct his or her life.
In a way, what Jesus is saying is really self-evident. One needs to be able to see in order help another who cannot see. If a person wants to learn, it is necessary to listen openly to the one who is teaching. If one’s vision is blocked in some way that needs to resolved before hoping to improve the vision of someone else. Finally, what is produced on the outside is the best source of understanding what is on the inside..
What we do and what we say cannot just be empty, meaningless actions ad words. They cannot be just ineffective formulas that are repeated. Rather, what we do and what we say, in ways that are sincere and true, are to transform us. This does not happen instantaneously. It takes place gradually. It is not done with the idea of achieving s reward for doing well. It is done out of genuine and sincere conviction about the meaning of any of these sayings and their effect on any of us and all of us.
As we begin the Season of Lent this Wednesday, a time of considering the highest qualities and possibilities we possess to be creatures of a loving God such as these sayings encourage, we are to make an even greater effort to understand and to embody what it means to be image and likeness of a good and gracious God.
1 Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-231 Corinthians 15: 45-49Luke 6: 26-38
It is close to exactly 2000 years since the words of Jesus which were just heard, as recorded by Saint Luke, were spoken. Almost 2000 years and still we are far from these words being taken seriously by ourselves in our individual lives and by our society. Especially is this disconcerting in the case of a nation that frequently takes pride in proclaiming its Christian roots and its Christian values.
Often, I suspect, our response to what Jesus was saying is that he is too idealistic, perhaps too naive, or not realistic and not living in the real world. It is this last description that must make us stop and think. After all, what is it that we profess as our Faith? What is it that is fundamental to our belief? These words are not pious thoughts of some great human teacher or some wise philosopher or prophet. These words are spoken by God who became man in the person of Jesus Christ. They are spoken by God who ultimately created and gave life to all of humanity. If we want to understand how best we are to live out what we are, here it is. What is being presented to us some 2000 years after it was declared the first time is simply an outline, a description, of the reality of what we are to be, how we are to live and act as creations of a loving God.
Do we really want o know what it is all about, being alive in our world? Do we want to understand how best to live this gift of life we have and we share? It is here in the words Jesus speaks: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
But, we still doubt, we still are skeptical. It is then that we must look at the image that is boldly put in front of us here in this church. It is the image of Christ, the crucified Lord. Despite his teaching, despite the ways in which he healed and restored so many, the result was that he was betrayed by one who was supposed to be his friend and he was handed over by leaders of his own people to be executed. His death on the cross was not the end. Rather – and this is our Faith- it was the means by which the God-man proved the validity of what he was saying. He was not mistaken. He was not defeated He overcame even death itself. The crucifixion led to theResurrection.
It is exactly this point that Saint Paul wishes to make in writing to the Corinthians, as well as to us. As we are united with Adam in the humanity we share, we are united with Christ in his Resurrection by the Faith we declare.
2000 years ago these words of Jesus were spoken. 2000 years later we are called upon to take these words to heart, to make these words real and active in our lives, and through our lives to make them real and active in our society and our world. Living the teachings of the God-man Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives, is the true way that we experience and our world comes to know our good and gracious God.
Jeremiah 17: 5-6I Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20Luke 6: 17, 20-26
It is reasonable to understand that during the two and half or so years of his ministry Jesus presented his basic teachings in different ways. What we heard today, for example, in St. Luke’s account of what we call the “Beatitudes”, is different than the more familiar format given by St. Matthew.
Both summaries of Jesus’ teaching, however, lay before us simple insights into a fuller appreciation of our relationship with our loving God that are found in the values that each expresses.
The challenge that Jesus offers to us, as it is recorded by St. Luke, reminds us that what society – the society of Jesus’ time or of our own time – often values most: wealth, security, pleasure, social approval, is meaningless, warrant rejection, and is really a source of woe, or grief.. On the other hand what society – either Jesus’ society or our own – fears or ignores or rejects: poverty, hunger, sadness, oppression, can truly be a source of blessedness, value and worth.
But why is this so, we might easily ask. It does not make sense to us. As we listen to God speak to us through the Scriptures today we can find the key to understanding the teachings of Jesus by considering the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Like Jesus, Jeremiah presents a contrast. He says that reliance on what is fleeting: wealth, food, satisfaction, human praise, makes a person like a barren shrub in the wasteland. It is present. It is visible. But it is dry, brittle and lifeless. Trust in God, confidence placed in God rather than in self and self-will and what we want and how we want it, will keep us going and give us hope. It will make us to be like a fruitful tree planted by water that does not fear heat or drought. It is alive and green.
Such trust and such hope Is not always easy. What is immediate, What is instantaneously gratifying. What is now. This is often more appealing. But what Jesus is teaching us is that we must open our eyes and broaden our perspective.
A further insight in this regard can be found in what we heard from St. Paul today. Some at Corinth had doubts about what was the basis for their faith in Jesus Christ: that he had overcome death and had risen from the dead. For some, what was immediate and what was evident appeared to be much more attractive. But as Paul points out, if that was all Jesus was teaching, if all he was concerned about was the here and now, and there was no conquest of death in resurrection, that teaching would be meaningless.
True value in life, true value in being alive now, finds its strength in faith in the Resurrection. No matter what we might face, even if it be poverty, hunger, loss or rejection, in whatever way we are united to the total gift of Christ on the cross, all is overcome by faith in he Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all is overcome by a firm conviction and trust in the endless presence of a good and gracious God.