Homily for March 5

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

So, we have Jesus, in the desert - going one-on-one with the devil.
I wonder if, in your mind’s eye,
you’re imagining a creature with horns
sporting  a red cape and a pitch fork?

Of course, Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us what the devil looked like,
much less what he was wearing
but I know that when I’m tempted,
I never see red capes or pitchforks.

Temptation can sometimes be “right in my face”
but more often than not it sneaks up on me, as if out of nowhere,
in the half-light of shadows,
indistinct and yet somehow - appealing…

Often when temptation comes
I have a kind of déjà vu recognition of it:
I’ve seen this, or heard this, or felt this,
I’ve wanted or desired this before:
temptation’s magnetism
often seems to have a vague history with me…

What are your temptations?
Are you tempted to lie or to cheat
or to take what doesn’t belong to you?
Are you tempted to  step beyond the boundaries
of your life’s situation and demands and responsibilities?
Are you tempted to eat or drink
- or buy or own - more than you need?
Are you tempted to envy and jealousy?
Are you tempted to think you know more
or you know better than God?
Are you tempted to gossip about some juicy tidbit that came your way?
Are you tempted to be biased and prejudiced?
Are you tempted to sin in your thoughts?
in your words?
in your deeds?
Are you tempted to think you have no temptations?
That’s the biggest temptation of all!

If temptation did arrive dressed in a red cape with a pitch fork,
we’d probably deal with it better than we often do.
But temptation doesn’t come in a Halloween costume:
it comes in every day clothes;
it appears as normal and harmless;
it beckons with a feigned innocence;

enticing us to accept whatever it’s offering and promising…

And temptation is patient and subtle: 
can’t you hear temptation’s voice?
Oh, come on! Go ahead! Just a little!
Who’s gonna know? Nobody’s gonna get hurt!
You work so hard, you’ve waited so long,
you’ve been so good  -- you deserve this!

Temptation is smooth, subtle, seductive
--  and very convincing.
And if I resist temptation - is that the end of it?
Does temptation walk away, defeated, dejected and disappointed?
No way!
When I resist temptation,
it quietly slips away into a corner, just out of sight,

and hits the deck doing push-ups, getting stronger and stronger,
biding its time with exquisite patience
while I congratulate and pat myself on the back
until my pride swells and renders me an even easier target
for temptation’s return with its muscle and cunning.
All this temptation business might leave us hopeless
if it weren’t for the story in today’s gospel.
Jesus goes one-on-one with the tempter
and he remains strong, he doesn’t give in.
And most importantly,
Jesus teaches us something about confronting temptation.

Jesus faces his first temptation after forty days with no food
- and as the gospel tells us - he was mighty hungry.
I know just from Thanksgiving Day dinner
how eating can dull my senses and make me drowsy and lethargic.
Lenten fasting is meant to heighten my senses,
make me more aware of what’s going on around me.

Fasting in Lent is meant to sharpen my awareness
so that I might see temptation for what it is
and learn to recognize it when it comes,
regardless of its costume or disguise.

And the tempter offers Jesus what’s already his as God’s Son:
all the power and glory in the world.
The same thing we heard about the man and woman
in the Garden of Eden:
“Eat the fruit of this one tree,” said the tempter,
“and you’ll be like gods.”
But they were already made in the image and likeness of God.
The tempter delights in getting me to think of myself as incomplete,
not yet good enough, second class -
and then flashing before me a make-over version of my self:
which isn’t the true me; which isn’t the real me;
which isn’t the person God made me to be;
which is little more than smoke and mirrors,
a Photo-Shopped, touched up, air brushed fantasy
that ultimately leads me away from knowing my true self
and away from knowing who God is in my life.

And the tempter invites Jesus to believe that if he gives in,
things will be a lot easier: painless, pleasant and pleasurable.
But I know from my past that giving into temptation
never yields the happiness I thought it would bring me.
Oh, there might be a brief high,
but the let-down from that high and the pain it causes me and others
never exceeds, it doesn’t even equal,
the satisfaction and serenity that’s mine

when I’m faithful to God in the life I already possess.

Let’s look at how the three basic exercises of Lent,
prayer, fasting and caring for the poor,
are just what we need to confront what tempts us. Prayer:
growing closer to the God in whose image I am made… 

learning to see temptation for what it is
and to heighten my awareness of what’s real in my life… 

Caring for the poor:
finding peace - not in satisfying myself and my own desires -
but  in serving the needs of others.

These are the tools Lent offers to strengthen us,
to strengthen each of us,
in the face of those temptations
from which we pray to be delivered.

Of course, the best way to win the battle with the tempter
is to stay close by the side of Jesus
who fought this battle once, for all of us -- and won.

Stay in the winner’s corner,
stay close to Jesus who has already won
the struggle, the battle that’s ours in temptation.

Only he can deliver us from temptation
and every victory over temptation we have
is the strength and the power of his grace working within us.

Especially at this table, in the sacrament of this altar,
do we find the strength we need to say no to the tempter
and yes to God’s truth in our lives.

Come to the table of the Lord
and be nourished by the One whose victory is ours
in his mercy and in his love.


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