|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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|First Sunday in Lent||
February 13, 2005
St. Paul gives direction for us today on how we reflect on these scripture lessons. He tells us that just as one transgression brought a sentence of death to all, so too one rehabilitation brought pardon and life to all. Just as the disobedience of one made many sinners, so the obedience of one allowed a multitude to be made just and holy. That's what the first community of Christians, for whom Matthew wrote the gospel that we heard today, were reflecting on when he described these temptations of Jesus. He wanted to contrast the obedience of Jesus and the disobedience, not only of Adam and Eve but of the chosen people as they traveled through the desert.
This passage about the temptations of Jesus, then, is meant to call to mind what happened with the chosen people as they went through the desert. That is very clear when you realize that each time Jesus speaks he's using words that are taken directly from the scriptures, from the book of Deuteronomy when the chosen people were traveling through the desert and were being tested at various points. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 describe these events; they start with these words: "Listen, then, Israel. Observe these commandments and put them into practice. Listen, oh Israel, Yahweh our God is one God. You shall love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."
But the people failed to listen. At various points they were tested by God. One of those tests was about having enough food. As they were traveling through the desert they were constantly complained that God wasn't taking care of them. They disobeyed God by their refusal to accept that God was with them every day, constantly watching over them. They wanted more and more material things. They wanted more and more comforts. They wanted more bread all the time.
In Matthew's Gospel, in the first temptation, Jesus addressed this same issue. Jesus said, "No, just as in the book of Deuteronomy the chosen people were told you do not live on bread alone, but rather on every word that comes from the mouth of God." You have to move beyond material things, reach into the depths of your spirit. Find nourishment there from the word of God.
The second temptation was much like the chosen people experienced when they refused to trust in God. That is what that temptation was about. If you have a suspicion that maybe God isn't taking care of you, you are going to test God to see if God is faithful. So the devil is saying to Jesus, "Test God. See how faithful God is. Will God really protect you? Give you security?" Jesus said, "No, I won't test God. God is always faithful." So Jesus was obedient and refused to test God like the devil was trying to get him to do. In Deuteronomy, the people had refused to accept God's trust or to trust in God and accept God's constant care for them. They were always putting God to the test without confidence and trust in God.
The chosen people in the desert also were seeking to conquer others, to become a dominant nation. That was what the devil offered to Jesus when he said, "Have all the power that you can accumulate on earth. All the riches. All these kingdoms are yours if only you worship me. Follow my way of power, domination, using wealth and prestige to overwhelm others. Follow my way." But Jesus said, "No, the Lord, your God, you shall worship. The Lord, your God, alone." Jesus refused to follow the ways of the world of power.
And, of course, then the contrast becomes very clear. Jesus is the faithful one. The son of God, most truly beloved. Through that obedience and faithfulness of Jesus, all of us can become brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of God, beloved children of God just as Jesus. But, of course, there is the challenge for us to be obedient as Jesus was. And this is a very important quality that we must develop for ourselves and to understand what obedience really is. Sometimes we think obedience is just blindly following whatever we're told to do. Well, that is not a virtue, simply to follow, to do whatever you're told. Blind obedience is not a virtue, it's a failure of responsibility. Obedience really means, the word itself means, to listen deeply. "Hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God." God was saying to them: Listen. Listen to God. Listen deeply and respond! That's what Jesus did, he listened deeply to God and where God was leading him and he responded. Now, we too, if we're going to follow Jesus especially through this season of Lent, we're going to try to become obedient as Jesus was obedient.
That second temptation has to do with having a sense of security, knowing that God is there no matter what. How easy it is to want to put our security in earthly things, not ultimately in God. Look at the hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent trying to bring security to our nation and yet we're not secure. We try to bring security by dominating others, by having the most powerful arsenal in the world, by trying to seal off our borders, making sure no one gets in. We try to have security by, as we say, taking the war to the terrorists, where they are so they won't be in our country. We go to war to try to have security instead of trusting in God as Jesus told the devil he would. "You shall not challenge the Lord, your God. Do not fail to trust." And so, if we listen deeply to Jesus, we will perhaps find other ways in which to have our security. Trusting in God that if we follow God's ways we will be secure, and only if we follow God's ways.
The third temptation is so clear about having all the power that you possibly can have on Earth, dominating the world through power and riches instead of through the way of Jesus. If we listen deeply to Jesus wouldn't we know that it is when he is powerless, as we see on the cross over here, that is when Jesus is most powerful, because he draws all people to himself, transforms the world through love. We prayed in our opening prayer today that we might understand the deepest meaning of Lent. The deepest meaning of Lent is God's love being poured forth upon us through Jesus and transforming us and transforming our world. When we go after arsenals, and weapons and money and power, we are defying the way of Jesus. We're not listening deeply to Jesus and to God's way.
At our meeting last week, we talked about what would be a vision for the church as we try to enter into the strategic plan that the archdiocese has suggested we are about to develop. I thought that here too is a place where we have to try to listen deeply to Jesus in what we're going to be as a parish community and what we should be as a full church of Detroit. I received a letter this week from someone who actually wrote to all the bishops of the diocese. The letter seems to flow from a sense of listening to Jesus and being obedient. What a contrast it is to what we've been presented. She says:
What a church we could be. Can you imaging standing against the culture that promotes urban sprawl and people running away from the city and instead boldly standing with the poor, the children, those nobody seems to care about? What a church we could be investing what little we have, trusting God will transform our meager loaves and fish into transforming neighborhoods, feeding people, doing peace education. Can you imagine saying as a church that we aren't going to build anymore, but rather put our resources, no matter how foolish it might seem, into those who need it most? What if we measured our ability not with numbers but by gospel value? What an exciting church of Detroit we would be. What a church we could be. Can you imagine reaching out to those most outcast in society, especially the gay community who has taken more than their share of hurt. We would stand against the culture of discrimination and stand with the culture of compassion. Our inclusiveness would be a beacon of hope to all. What an exciting church we would be. Instead it seems the church is making plans out of a sense of scarcity in priests and money rather than planning out of the abundance of good news entrusted to us. Instead it seems the church, under the guise of "together" is going along with the crowd, leaving behind those with the greatest need. My heart is very heavy and sad with the direction of the archdiocese of Detroit."
I know that letter was sent to all the bishops of the archdiocese. It is a letter pleading with us to listen, but it's also something that all of us should listen to. Imagine the church we could be if we listened deeply to Jesus and really tried to take on his values, tried to listen deeply to everything that God says to us through this word of God and follow it. Respond to this word. Truly, what a church we could be.
During the season of Lent, then, I hope all of us will try to keep on listening more deeply to God's holy word because that's what we are nourished by and that's how we will grow into the image of Jesus that we're called to be. Jesus was obedient in contrast to the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the chosen people in the desert. We must try to follow Jesus and be obedient. Listen deeply everyday to God speaking within the depths of our hearts and then responding to what God says with as much enthusiasm and strength as we can bring forth. That's how we will be the church God wants us to be.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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