First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Gospel of Luke 4:1-13
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 10 March 2019
As we enter into the First Sunday of Lent today, let us first remind ourselves that even as the “Season of Lent” has the recurring themes of challenging us to the repentance of our sins, it is not a season of gloom and doom. The Lenten season is not a time when the Church condemns us of our sins, but a time that reminds us of God’s Merciful Love and Compassion.
Indeed, the Lenten season is a privilege time of the liturgical season to help us renew and deepen our relationship with Jesus. In other words, the Lenten season is a season of “the joy of discovering anew who Jesus is for us.” This is important and cannot be taken for granted, as you and I may unconsciously be living our faith with the attitude that we do not need to be challenged in our faith.
And if this is so, then our faith can very easily drift and degenerate into a faith that is complacent, superficial, spiritually blind and worse still, a faith that is self-righteousness, like the scribes and the Pharisees, where we are convinced that the Church and everyone else is wrong and sinful, except ourselves.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, we hear of how Jesus was filled with and led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to prepare Himself for the Messianic Mission of His Father, for the Salvation of the world.
While Jesus was in the desert for forty days, He was being tempted by the devil. From this truth of what happened to Jesus, let us remind ourselves that like Jesus, we too are not spared from our daily temptations by the devil to turn away from living the life of holiness that God our Father Wills of you and I. To test how deep our love for God is, let us be mindful and be sure that God too will allow us to be tested, as Jesus was tested, in His preparation to embark on His Messianic Mission of His Father.
In the First Temptation, we know that Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and was very hungry. As such, Satan’s strategy was to tempt Jesus with a very ordinary human need to eat as He was very hungry. On the surface, there is nothing wrong to offer someone food when he is hungry. In fact, Satan was tempting Jesus with a very attractive human good.
However, in doing so, in offering Jesus a material need to feed His hunger, Satan’s strategy was to distract and divide Jesus’ attention and commitment in His preparation for His Messianic Mission of Saving the world. And so, in response, Jesus said, “Scripture says, Man does not live on bread alone.”
In other words, one of Satan’s strategy that we often fall for and are too weak to overcome are the temptations for the material needs and comforts in our lives. How often do we find it irresistible to say, we do not need the greater comforts and luxuries of life of a bigger bank account, a bigger car, a bigger home and the like, /and instead make the needed sacrifices for the good of others e.g. supporting our parents, siblings, the poor and the needy, who need our help?
In the Second Temptation, Satan brought Jesus up to a height and the Gospel says, “in a moment of time showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and offered them to Jesus and said, ‘worship me, then all of these will be yours. But, Jesus answered, “Scriptures says, You must worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.”
In this temptation, Satan was increasing the stakes of his temptation and making his offer irresistable; he was offering Jesus what he calls “all the kingdom of the world”, if only Jesus could just worship him. In this offer, let us be aware that Satan’s offers and temptationswhile very tempting, are full of deception and lies. In this temptation of Jesus, Satan lied that he owned all the kingdom of the world and that he can choose to give it to anyone . . . when in truth he owns nothing and he has nothing to give, except his pack of lies that are often half-truths; and that was precisely how Adam and Eve fell for the temptation.
Let us note that in this second temptation of Satan, his strategy is more attractive, subtle and deceptive. Let us note too that this temptation is a temptation of a future honour, glory and glamour that fires the fantasies of our imagination, hopes and dreams . . . and Satan presents it as so easy to have possession of, if we only just worship him, instead of God our Father.
But, let us also note that even as the offer of the reward of worshipping Satan is so attractive, they are not only a pack of lies,that cannot be fulfilled, but more importantly if we fall for his temptation, we would have sold our soul and gift of Salvation that Jesus offers, to Satan.
In the Third Temptation of Jesus, Satan draws out his biggest arrow. Satan affirms Jesus as the “Son of God”. He affirms the Truth of Jesus’ divinity, deep union and love that He has with His Father. And in so doing, Satan’s strategy and deception was that, if Jesus were to throw Himself off the parapet of the Temple, God the Father will send angels to prevent Him from being harmed. In response to this, Jesus said, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, this third and final temptation of Satan is essentially about the temptation of Pride. Here Satan, was trying to tempt Jesus to glorify Himself as the “Son of God” at the expense of His Love for His Father. This is the ultimate strategy and motive of all of Satan’s deception and lies. Satan just wants us and everyone to glory themselves, instead of glorifying God in all that we do and live.
If we are to fall into this sin of “self-glory” then Satan would have succeeded in creating a rift and division between us and God our Father. If Satan is successful in achieving this goal, then nothing that we do, including the good that we do, can bear fruit. This is clear in the Gospels. Jesus repeatedly proclaims that our thoughts words and deeds, even the smallest of deeds, would not go unnoticed and unrewarded by God, and indeed will even yield a rich harvest of thirty fold, sixty fold and a hundred fold, if they are done out of love for God our Father, and for His Greater Gloryinstead of our self-glory.
More specifically, Spiritual writers of the Church like St Ignatius of Loyola, contends that the sin of pride and self-glory is a grievous of sinbecause as the inevitable effects of “self-glory” is the sin of “self-righteousness.” This is the grievous sin of the scribes and Pharisees, who rejected Jesus as Saviour and Lord. If we fall into this sin of “self-righteousness” we will, like the scribes and Pharisees, inevitably fall into the sin of condemning the Church and others, and where we see the splinter in our brother’s eye and not realise the plank in our own. In short, in the sin of pride St Ignatius of Loyola too would say that our pride will attract and is the fertile seedbed for all the other sins to grow and flourish.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that the Lenten season is a season of the fundamental Call of God for you and I to grow in the holiness of our vocation regardless of who we are; whether we are a lay person, an ordained priests or a religious. And, to grow in this holiness of our vocation, we are not merely called to do more good and avoid sins during this Lenten season.
More importantly, you and I are challenged to live a more discerning life; a life that is built on our personal love for Jesus, and a trust that dares to ask God our Father for the graces to embrace with willingness and sincerity, the similar challenges and temptations that Jesus encountered while He was tested during His forty days in the desert. In overcoming all the temptations, Jesus was more fully prepared for the Messianic Mission of His Father to save all of mankind.
Likewise, for us, as Jesus’ disciples who are entering this Season of Lent, let us ask God for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to enlighten and empower us with the strength like Jesus, to overcome the first temptation of Jesus to the attractions of our material needs and comforts,that distract us and draw us away from our relationship with Jesus.
That like Jesus, to overcome the second temptation of the glory and glamour of our secular world at the expense of our love for God; and to realise more fully that the promises of Satan are full of deception and lies.
And finally, to have the wisdom of Jesus to overcome the temptation of the sin of pride and self-righteousness that destroys our goal in life to live and serve for God’s Glory and not our self-glory.
- Ref: Story adapted from: The Chain of Love, Essays for Daily Living; Joseph A.Galdon,S.J.; Cacho Hermanos,Inc; 1993; pp.73-78
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.