First Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2019
Listen here (click).
Today’s Gospel contains perhaps the most obvious, if not altogether profound, truth in all of Scripture. No, I’m not referring to “One does not live on bread alone”, for that is profound and I’ll get to that in a second. I’m referring to the line, “He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over . . . he was hungry.” Uh, yeah think?
Every so often the Bible nails the obvious, point blank.
Jesus’ 40 days of fasting are symbolic of the 40 years Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert in search of the Promised Land. It’s also the origin of Lent . . . 40 days to pray, fast, and give our hearts over to God.
So, Jesus comes to the end of his 40 day fast, he’s really hungry. Sensing possible vulnerability, the devil fires off three temptations, each of which challenges Jesus’ relationship with God and his role in the world. The devil tries to get in his head, with the phrase “If you are the Son of God . . .” Is it just me, or do you also constantly hear a similar voice in your head that oscillates between judging others and putting your own self down?
Temptation one – purely physical. Turn the stone into bread and you can eat, dummy.
Temptation two – power. I’ll show you the secrets on how to manipulate and control these people who aren’t smart enough to manage themselves.
Temptation three – status. Maximize your title and credentials and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.
In this story we see Jesus engaged in a kind of Bible battle with the devil, which, on the one hand is a sober reminder that anyone can quote Scripture to his or her own purposes. On the other hand, I think Jesus shows that regular immersion in Scripture reveals the authentic voice of God.
With each temptation, Jesus said:
“It is written . . . One does not live on bread alone” quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus does not finish the sentence—"but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD”, probably because he knows the devils already knows the line.
“It is written . . . You shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve" quoting Israel’s first and greatest commandment found in Deuteronomy 6:13.
“It is also written . . . You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
Jesus responded to each temptation not with his own words, but with words from Scripture.
Notice how the devil began to employ the same tactic by also saying, “It is written . . .” with a mocking tone quoting Psalm 91.
What’s the take away here? It’s clear that Jesus was anchored in the Word of God. He knew Scripture, and it clearly meant a great deal to him. And so, shouldn’t it mean something to me and you as well? I believe Jesus is showing how to manage life’s temptations, how to quell that self-centered voice in my head, and how to make my way through life itself. Scripture. Bible.
Okay, as Catholics we are not known for our biblical prowess. Most of us are not steeped in the Bible like other Christians. In fact, some of us may have old Catholic Family Bibles in our homes (pre-Vatican II) that actually caution against reading it on your own . . . for you will likely get it wrong, misinterpret the passage.
However, since Vatican II, the Catholic Church no longer feels that way. In fact, as Catholics, each of us is encouraged to read, reflect on, and pray with the Bible, and we are encouraged to share with others what it teaches us.
Today we heard Paul quote Scripture to the Romans, saying, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” So, I ask what favorite Scripture passage do you carry in our heart? What’s your favorite Bible story, or passage, or line, or phrase? What from the Bible do you carry with you that helps you navigate your way through the day, through the week, through the year?
If you draw a blank when you hear this question, don’t beat yourself up. You are certainly not alone. But, I urge you to take up the challenge to immerse yourself in the Bible this Lent. Spend enough time with it to find at least one story, one passage, or one line that you carry in our heart each day to guide you, to comfort you, to strengthen you, to refresh you.
Examples abound. Let me share a few:
Create a clean heart in me, O God (Psalm 51)
Blessed are the poor in Spirit (Matthew 5)
Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (John 14:27)
The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want (Psalm 23)
Has no one condemned you? Nor do I. (Woman caught in adultery, John 8:10)
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord (Luke 1:46-56)
My ways are not your ways, says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)
Here I am, send me (Isaiah 6:8)
He is not here! (Matthew 28:6)
Those are lines and passages. Stories are also abundant. Four of my favorites are:
Breakfast on the Beach (John 21)
Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
Ruth and Esther (Ruth)
The Widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17)
Here’s a secret for getting started. Pick out your favorite song from Breaking Bread. The lyrics likely come directly from the Bible. Or, get a good Catholic Bible and look through the front matter and back matter. You will find helpful hints on how to get into the Bible in meaningful ways.