HOMILY 1st SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
TEMPTATION, TEMPTATION, TEMPTATION
Mt 4.1-11 Gen 2.7-9, 3.1-7 Rom 5.12-19
Now we move into penitential purple as Lent begins, with Ash Wednesday as one of the most popular ‘feast days’ in Catholic tradition. While there’s a certain irony in Jesus calling for clean faces and combed hair, fasting without boasting and quiet personal prayer, we all come up to get marked by the ashes we like to wear home! Still, it’s not done to impress others, is it, but rather to remind us of our need for penitence and forgiveness, as well as to act in a charitable way with some form of self-sacrifice. In our case, the most obvious means of acting in this way is in our support of Project Compassion, aiding the good works of Caritas Australia in various parts of the world, where needs are great. The whole idea too, is to assist people in helping themselves, as we see in the diverse projects undertaken at the grass roots level.
The humanity of Jesus is highlighted here in the presentation of the 3 great temptations, from self-gratification of physical needs, to self-aggrandisement, showing off to obtain the admiration and accolades of others, and then to power and glory without effort, and for all the wrong reasons.
This is not to deny the necessity of satisfying basic human physical needs, such as nourishment over hunger, having some self-confidence in order to be of service to others, and leading by example. Nevertheless, Jesus is portrayed from the start as looking beyond self to responding to those around him and serving their needs.
Bread is something which Jesus breaks and shares with the multitudes, and not just looking after himself. Often enough in the Gospels, also, he is described as not wanting his works of healing to be advertised by those whose lives he has transformed. Yet, they have trouble keeping it quiet, so the word gets around anyway!
And certainly, the Kingdom he proclaims has nothing to do with worldly power, wealth and glory. It seems to take his disciples a long time for this to sink in, as many hope for freedom from Roman rule, with Jesus as their hope to achieve this goal, despite his clear and consistent renunciation of any form of violence, as we heard last week, in the call to love our enemies!
The first temptation is in the desert, where it was considered that demons and wild things roamed, Jesus’ peaceful presence counters the darkness and fear that this environment provoked. It can’t be all taken literally, but as symbolic of his showing the way to faith in loving God with heart and soul and mind, with integrity and inner strength. The reality of temptation is always there, as part of the human condition, so no doubt Jesus did experience temptations to avoid the crosses he faced, before his ultimate crucifixion, but with conviction and determination, pursued his mission, mindful that this was God’s purpose through him showing the way.
Proneness to evil is also a fundamental part of our human condition, which is what the Genesis reading is really about today, from the second Creation account, unfairly blaming the woman, poor old Eve! Free will is the gift, and the choice for good or evil is ours to make. That’s where it connects to you and me.
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of this every time we say it, asking not to be led into temptation. At the same time, there is no avoiding all sorts of temptations with which we find ourselves. The real issue is what we do about facing up to them, choosing good over evil, but admitting our wrongs and seeking forgiveness when we fail, of God and of those whom we have hurt.
Michael McGirr has good insights into today’s readings: “It has often been misunderstood to suggest that sin entered the world through one woman, yet this is not true. On the contrary, the readings tell us that the world is good. When humans try to overstretch their boundaries, trouble follows and the experience of beauty and harmony is threatened. We need to choose our teachers. Are we going to listen to God or the serpent? In our modern world, the serpent takes many forms. There are many threats to the harmony of the human race and the beauty of our natural environment… Jesus actually teaches the devil, telling the evil one that God is in charge.”
Now, this week, we hear about 16-year-old Laxmi who lives in a remote part of Nepal. Our help has enabled her to overcome family hardship to pursue her education. She was tempted to give up on school, but Project Compassion enabled her to follow a more positive direction and to realise what she could achieve for her community by becoming an engineer.
(PC Video -Laxmi in Nepal)
john hannon 26th February 2023