Homilies

1st Sunday in Lent
Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-19, Mt 4:1-11
We are Tempted like Jesus – Trust in Him

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 23 March 2017

The background element that would be useful for us to understand the Temptations of Jesus, after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, is the 40 years of desert experience of Israel after they were liberated from the political power and oppression of the Pharaoh in Egypt.  In the 40 years of desert experience, the Israelites, under the leadership of the Prophet Moses were tempted in many ways: On one occasion they were hungry and were unwilling to trust God for its subsistence (Ex 16: Dt 8:2-3).  On another occasion Israel demanded from God an extraordinary show of power (Dt 17:1-7).   Yet, on a third occasion, they made themselves an idol in the shape of a golden calf and worshipped it as a god (Ex 32, Dt 6:13). 

In today’s Gospel scene that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus was also tempted by Satan to the same kinds of temptations.  At the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, the heavens opened, and God the Father proclaimed, “This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).  Obedience to one’s father is the virtue of true sonship.  Thus, Satan wanted Jesus to rebel against His Father, through submitting to the temptations that he posed Jesus.  Where “Israel of old, (the disobedient “son” of Yahweh) failed, Jesus proved victorious. 

Since the Temptations of Jesus followed His Baptism, we as Christians too are expected to be tempted after our Baptism.  And as a son and daughter of God our Father, we too are expected to overcome the temptations that Satan would challenge us during our journey of faith while in this world. 

The first Temptation that Jesus encountered from Satan, was to use His divine power to turn the stones into bread.  Satan knew very well that Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and was feeling very hungry.  So Satan’s strategy was to appeal to Jesus’ weakness of hunger.  However, Jesus resisted the temptation and responded wisely and said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

In other words, Satan was tempting Jesus to do something good for Himself; that is to feed Himself as he deserves to eat from all the many days of fasting . . . otherwise, He would faint, destroy His health irreversibly and even die of hunger. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the temptations of Satan for believers like us who are trying to live our faith with greater fidelity is similar to those of Jesus.  Because we are trying to live our life in more wholesome and Christ-like ways, Satan would not simply tempt us to sin, by doing bad and evil things as this would be too obvious.  Instead, Satan would attract us to do the good that we humanly should do like eat when we are hungry . . . and do enjoy good food, that’s God’s gift to us and the like.  However, if we are not careful, the good that is in the consumption of food can become excessive and turn into gluttony or the lures into other forms of gratification that eventually can turn us into “self-centred persons” who then can become secular and materialistic in our outlook on life. 

This “First Temptation” of Jesus can be seen as a temptation of the lures of material riches and wealth of the secular world.  Doing well and becoming successful in the secular world is good in itself; a blessing from God.  However, if we are not careful and not grateful enough to God for all the blessings we have received, then we can gradually and eventually be lured by Satan into living a life that is over focused on wanting to accumulate more and more material wealth, and losing our focus on the God of our lives, and making our material wealth as being more important than the God who has given us the wealth and blessings in our lives. 

The Second Temptation that Satan presented to Jesus was the lure of “HONOUR”.  Satan took Jesus to the parapet of the Temple and tested Jesus, “If you are the Son of God”, then prove Your Self-Worth, affirm your Identity, throw Yourself down and the angels will surely protect You from any harm.  To this temptation, Jesus responded, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, we all know that to be respected and honoured is good, in fact this is how we should treat each other.  However, if we do not reciprocate the honour we receive and get carried away at seeking honour only for ourselves, then the good that we desire would turn us into self-glorifying persons, like the Pharisees of the Gospels.  St Ignatius of Loyola tells us in the Spiritual Exercises, that if we are not careful and if we do not live a discerning life, then this temptations of the lure of material wealth and riches will surely draw us into this Second Temptation of the desire for HONOUR. 

And when we fall into this Second Temptation, we are on the slippery slope of being drawn into the Third Temptation of Jesus which is the Temptation of PRIDE.  Here Satan tries to deceive Jesus by offering Him all the kingdom, cities and splendour of the world (even when he owns none of them), if Jesus was only to worship Him.  To this Jesus responded, “We only worship the Lord our God and serve Him alone.”

This third temptation to Pride, is the most serious of all because the sin of PRIDE is when we make ourselves as the Centre of our lives and push God the Father into the background of our lives, St Ignatius says, “when we have Pride, all other vices will follow” . . . and in the end, if we do not change and be converted back to God, we may even lose the gift of eternal life. 

My brothers and sisters, in Christ, we do not have time to reflect further into each of the temptations of Jesus, and how were are called to overcome the challenges of these Temptations in our lives.  However, I would like us to ponder on this story of James, to remind us that if we truly wish to overcome the temptations of Satan in our lives, then we must entrust our lives more fully to Jesus and let Him be our strength and guide; our inspiration and wisdom.

And, so this is the story of James who shared, “At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die.  God was out there.  I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like me riding my mountain bicycle.  I noticed that Jesus was sitting in the back helping me pedal.  I don’t know when it was that Jesus suggested that we change places, but when that happened, life has not been the same since.  When I had control of the bicycle that I was riding, I knew the way.  However, it was rather boring and predictable . . . I was merely taking the shortest distance between two points.

But when Jesus took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts: He took us up the mountains, and through rocky places at breakneck speeds.  All I could do was to hang on!  Even though it looked like madness, He said to me, "Pedal!"  I worried and was anxious on the many twists and turns of our route and asked, "Jesus, where are you taking me?"  He would often laugh and didn’t answer.  And when I’d say "I’m scared," He’d lean back and touch my hand.

 

After some time I learned that the best thing is to trust in Him.  And the more I trusted in Him the more I realised that I was in safe Hands, and He was there to protect me and care for me.  And the more I trusted in Jesus, the more I realised that, if I forget my boring life and entered into the adventure and took the paths and followed the route Jesus had chartered for me, He would take me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy.  They gave me and Jesus gifts to take on my journey.  And when I received the many gifts that came my way, Jesus would say to me, "Give the gifts away, if you keep them, they will become excess baggage, and they would be of no use to you; they would slow you down, and you would be taking the boring route of your life again.”  So I did what Jesus said, and I found that in giving I received even more, and yet, strangely my yoke was easy, and my burden was always light.”

Looking back, James says, “I have come to realise that at the beginning of the ride, even as Jesus was guiding me, I did not trust Him and wanted to be in control of where I went and what route I wanted to take.  This was because I thought that to follow my own familiar route was safer as I was in “control.”  However, on the contrary, I now realise that actually when I allowed Jesus to take over the bike and just pedalled it, He amazingly showed me that He knew the bike’s secrets.  He knows how to make the bike bend to take sharp corners; He knows how to jump to clear high rocks, and how to fly to shorten scary passages.  

And in all of these adventures, I am learning to shut up and pedal, even if this was to lead me to the strangest places.  And in all the places that Jesus brought me, they gave me great surprises and joys that I had never experienced before in my life.  And, in moments when I felt that I was too tired or too fearful and painful to go on, Jesus would just give me an assuring hug, smile and say, ‘pedal.’”  Indeed, in all these experiences, Jesus was a delightful, loving and constant caring companion to me.  

And so, My brothers and sisters in Christ, in the story of James and his experiences of Jesus on his mountain bicycle, as I conclude, let us remember that, if we find ourselves not being able to overcome the temptations of our lives, then we are perhaps, like James.  We may be controlling our lives and relying too much on our own ways.  And in doing so, we are then not allowing Jesus to lead and guide us in our lives.  And, if we do not allow Jesus to be the centre of our lives, then when we face the different and many forms of temptations of our lives, it is then no wonder that we will continue to drift into our usual boring empty life; a life that is filled with anxieties and worries; a life that will lead us nowhere except from “point A to B” that we know of. 
But, if Jesus takes over our temptations to riches, that lead to honour and then pride then He will give us His Light and His Love to overcome all these temptations because He knows the “secrets of the bike of our hearts” that are needed to “turn the sharp corners and leap the high rocks of our temptations.”  And in doing so, we will finally, discover the wisdom of letting Jesus be the first and final love of our hearts and homes, especially during this Season of Lent.

(Ref.: Adapted from a story of an unknown author; and contributed by: Keith Broyles)

 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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