Homily for March 1

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

We have really meaty scriptures here for us to chew on this morning.

The first reading gives us naked people in a garden of paradise –
- an interesting place to begin!

The second reading is thick with theology but it’s St. Paul in top form,
comparing Adam and Jesus.

And then we come to the gospel
and the drama of Jesus going one-on-one, mano a mano,
with the devil himself!

And at the heart of these scriptures today are two invitations:
and invitation to temptation
and an invitation to conversion, to turning our hearts around.

The spiritual writer Thomas Merton tells us:
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.
(Thomas Merton in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

I think that might be many of us,
and I know that much of the time - that’s me.

I’m prone to thinking: Hey! I’m a good guy!
People tell me I’m a good priest (well, most people do).
What conversion do I need?
What needs to be turned around in my life?

And how about YOU:  you’re good folks!
As I look around, I see
 ‘nary a drug-dealer, bank-robber or murderer among you.
You’re good people!
You work hard.
Or you’re retired and resting from having worked hard.
You try to do right by your families.
You believe in God.
Hey! You’re in church, right?
Why would you need conversion?  Why would I need it?
What needs to be turned around in our good lives?

And this was precisely the problem
confronting that naked couple in the garden, in the first reading.

The temptation for them was to justify themselves
by the measure of their own goodness:
to justify themselves by the measure of their own goodness.
And the serpent took advantage of this!
Remember what the serpent said to them?
“Don’t worry! Eat the fruit! You’re good!  It’s all good! You’ll be fine!”

And Jesus is tempted in exactly the same way by the devil in the desert.

There’s the devil saying,
“Look, Jesus! You’re the Son of God. You’re powerful: you are all good!
You can do these simple things I’m asking of you
without breaking a sweat!

“So, could you just turn these rocks into bread?
Would you just call up a choir of angels to dance on the head of a pin?
Oh, Jesus, just give me a slight tip of your hat
and all the kingdoms of the world will be yours!”

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

But in the face of each temptation
Jesus points away from himself as the measure,
and points instead to the goodness of God, his Father.

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

Jesus, who is all good,
constantly putting the measure of goodness outside himself;
Jesus, the Son of God, would not justify himself
by the measure of his own goodness.

So, Lent is a time, a season, for each of us to ask,
“By what measure do I measure myself?
By what measure do I justify myself?
By what measure do I take stock, take inventory of my life?

Or have I slipped into thinking that
because I’m not a thief, not a drug-dealer, not a murderer –
that then I’m good enough?

Is that why I seldom or never go to confession?
Do I think, do I believe that I have nothing to confess,
By whose measure am I found to be that perfect,
that I have no sins to confess?
By what measure do I measure my life before God?

Lent is a time for asking:
Is there anything in my life in need of conversion,
in need of a ‘turn around’?
In what direction does my heart face?
Is it time to turn my heart around,
to turn my heart back to God?
And 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.

These are all ways in which we point away from ourselves
and toward the Lord:
prayer - in which we discern God's measure of our lives;
fasting - denying ourselves, emptying ourselves,
that we might be filled with the measure of God's presence within us;
and - serving the poor:
the very measure that Jesus tells us is the measure
of how much we love God,
that is: how we serve those in need.

Jesus surrendered his own goodness for our sake
by laying down his life on the Cross,
that’s the measure of his love.

On the Cross, Jesus turned and offered his heart to the Father
offered his heart with everything that was his to give,
offered his heart, his life, his all, for you and for me.

And what he offered on the Cross,
he offers to us now in the bread and cup of the Eucharist,
in the sacrament of this holy table.

May what we receive here in Communion,
which is nothing less than the very heart of Jesus, offered to his Father,
may what we receive here strengthen us
to examine our own hearts this Lent
so that through prayer, fasting and serving the poor,
we might return to God with all our heart.


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