First Sunday of Lent March 5, 2017
Genesis 2, 7-9, & 3, 1-7 + Psalm 51 + Romans 5, 12-19 + Matthew 4, 1-11
St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
I have always found it important to notice that the first temptation Jesus faces in the desert is about hunger and food. This trusting Son of God will not overreach his humanity. He does not play the “I am Divine” card, so to speak. He works no miracle for himself. The miracles he will work later are for others only. He quotes the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy to remind us of the Hebrews who grumbled in the desert about the food that God provided every day. Addicted to overeating, junk food, and full pantries, too much of this world is deaf to the Word of God, and the consequence is hunger and starvation. The miracle that will turn stones into bread for the hungry will happen when individuals and nations turn their hearts of stone from indifference and helplessness into compassionate mercy sharing wealth and opportunities with the poor and hungry.
Then comes another temptation to force God’s hand to send angels to catch the falling Son of God as though God is some kind of “emergency response team” only there when you dial “911”. Those who live every day with the knowledge and belief that God’s constant care guides everything we do have no need test God. Those who desire to do the Will of God have no fear. Even if the choices they make are not exactly what God wills, the desire to do God’s will is itself enough. These children of God have other “wings” with which to fly through this life: faith, trust, and hope.
Finally, we go to a privileged place, a mountain top, where God’s presence and power is always experienced by holy ones. There is found a temptation to play God and take over God’s place and power. This Son of God choses to remain powerless, and by that choice he has the power of God to drive away the tempter affirming that only God has real power and privilege. The power we assume is always a sham unless it is God’s power working through us. Later to the top of a high hill Jesus will return when he has faced down the final temptation and been raised up. There he will call us to the place where God dwells. Standing on that mountain with disciples filled with a mixture of doubt and faith just like us, he will give a share in his authority with the command that we are to make disciples everywhere, baptize, and teach all that Jesus has taught with the power to forgive.
My brothers and sisters, we are living in desert times surrounded by temptations. Perhaps a desert is what this world looks like compared to the Paradise to which we are called. We live too often with hearts of stone failing to satisfy human hunger. Because we fail to trust God every day, we panic and try to manipulate God when something big comes along rather than affirming and following the will of God. We use the gifts, the power, and sometimes the authority we have to protect ourselves rather see to the good of others. So, as we do every year at the beginning of Lent, we tell this story of temptation with the hope that 40 days of fasting from food and feasting on the Word of God will bring us to the next mountain with pure hearts and clear minds where we shall see the face of God and live.