Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

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By what measure of goodness do we measure ourselves?
(Readings for today's liturgy)

Audio for homily

Two great scenes in the scriptures this morning:
first, a naked couple in a garden of paradise
and then the desert drama of Jesus going one-on-one
with the devil himself!
And at the heart of these two stories - two invitations:
an invitation to temptation and an invitation to conversion.


Writing about conversion, Thomas Merton said:
It is relatively easy to convert the sinner.
But good people are often completely un-convertible
- simply because they do not see any need for conversion*

I think that might be many of us,
and I know it would be me, too much of the time.
“I’m a good guy! At least I like to think I’m a good guy.
And people tell me I’m a good pastor
(well, not all, but a lot of people do!).
What conversion do I need? What needs turning around in my life?"

And how about YOU?
You’re good folks!
‘Nary a drug-dealer, bank-robber or murderer among you.
You work hard, you try to do the right thing.
You believe in God.
Hey! You’re in church on Sunday morning, right?
Why would you need conversion?

Of course, when we think this way
we’re trying to justify ourselves by the measure of our own goodness.

We try to justify ourselves by the measure of our own goodness...

I’m sure the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden
believed they were good.
After all, God made them.
There were the only two!
And God put them in charge of the garden.
And this tree looked good.
And its fruit looked good for food.
And this serpent guy said it was good, said it would make them wise.
Why, I’ll bet the serpent even had an website to prove it!
I’ll bet the man and the woman thought,
“How could anything bad come from something that seemed so good?”
They were justifying themselves by their own measure of goodness.

As in the garden, so in the desert with Jesus and Satan.
There’s the devil saying,
“Look! You’re the Son of God. You can do anything!
You’re so good!"

The devil is tempting Jesus to justify himself
by the measure of his own goodness.

But at each temptation Jesus points away from himself as the measure,
and points to the goodness of his Father.

He tells the devil:
“We don’t live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.”
“You shall not put God to the test.”
“Only God is to be served, only God is to be worshipped.”

Constantly pointing to his Father as the standard of holiness,
even Jesus did not justify himself by his own goodness.

How about us?

By what standard do we measure goodness in our lives?

If I am my own standard,
how will I ever know God’s measure of goodness?

Lent might be a good season for asking some hard questions.
- By what measure do I justify myself?
- By what measure of goodness do I make my most important decisions?
      my most important choices?
- By what standard do I take stock of my life?
- Do I hold myself accountable to any measure of goodness
     greater than me?
- Am I among the un-convertible because I believe,
     by the standard of my own goodness, that I have no real sins?
          that I have no real need of God’s mercy?
I’m pretty good!

I can’t think of three better ways of getting at these questions
than the simple Lenten exercises
of prayer, fasting and serving the poor.

Honest prayer helps us discern God's measure of our goodness.
In fasting, our self-denial helps us face our real priorities
and the true value of the things we want the most.
And in serving the poor we discover the measure of love
God expects of each of us.

Jesus surrendered his goodness for our sakes
by laying down his life on the Cross.
The sacrifice of the Cross, the true measure of his love,
is offered to us now in the bread and cup of this table.

May the sacrament we celebrate and receive here
strengthen us to examine our hearts and lives this Lent
and discover God’s measure of goodness
and our need for God’s mercy.

*Thomas Merton in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

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