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First Sunday of Lent, Year C
Homily. Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13.

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Purple Stole and Gospel
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalms 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13


THEME OF THE READINGS
In confessing our faith, we must recognize that human success is a gift from God, and should be acknowledged with a spirit of sacrifice (First Reading). This belief in God is our salvation (Second Reading), and temptations can be resisted only when the sovereignty of God is recognized (Gospel).

DOCTRINAL MESSAGE

The First Reading offers us the Israelite confession of faith given when the first fruits of the harvest were brought in for sacrifice. It encapsulates the God-centered history of Israel, in which the Lord raises up a mighty people from a “wandering Aramean,” and brings them to the Promised Land. The focus on God helps to keep perspective, because without him, there would have been no people and no deliverance.

Paul’s own confession of faith in the second reading shows us the total confidence of the one who has given himself to Christ: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Desire for salvation is at the root of our religious experience. We know that we are wounded, incomplete creatures, and pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps is not an option. Our faith is like taking the hand of Christ who pulls us up from the mire of our human weakness.

With this backdrop of profound faith, the Gospel presents us with an account of the first “Lent,” when we see Jesus in the desert. His forty days of fasting and prayer present us with a model of faithfulness as opposed to the faithlessness of Israel during its forty years in the desert. He is the totally committed Son, whose adherence to the Father’s will is absolute.

Christ is the New Adam, and this is clearly seen in the way in which he fights against temptations. In Eden, Satan is disguised as the “wise” and shrewd snake in the tree, offering our first parents a shot at wisdom and immortality. They fall prey to his evil suggestions quite easily, and accept his offer with practically no struggle. They listen and dialogue with the tempter and so succumb to his wiles. What a different story with Christ! With him, the tempter comes in no disguise, the mask is off, and it’s open warfare. The New Adam shows a new way to handle temptation: He blasts Satan away with his utter refusal to entertain for even just a moment his malignant offer, since he is so centered on the will of his Father.

PASTORAL APPLICATIONS

The temptations that Christ receives help us to see where our own vulnerabilities are. He gives us an example to fortify us in our own spiritual struggles. While we may be hard-pressed to imitate his example of fortitude (forty days without eating is not recommended), his attitude towards whatever would separate him from the Father must find an echo in our own spiritual efforts.

Jesus’ answers to all the temptations revolve around his complete dedication to God. Perhaps we could look at the individual temptations as symptomatic for different areas of struggle that afflict us all.

“Turn these stones to bread.” Material concerns are in the forefront of many people’s daily lives. After all, if someone isn’t putting “bread on the table,” hunger will become a real and present danger. But Jesus’ refusal to turn stones into bread points to authentic human priorities. If we wish to live as Christ did, we must realize that we do not “live on bread alone.” While our faith provides us with no shortcuts for alleviating material needs, it does keep them from taking the first place in our lives. If we feed our souls on the word of God and, above all, the Bread of Life, we will ward off that hunger that is far more dangerous than the physical: spiritual emptiness.

The second temptation is to power. Pride is an enemy that wins many battles over us, but not Christ. His total love for the Father precludes any rebellion against his will in favor of himself. Our desire for control fans the flames of our pride and has us grasping for more and more. But Jesus teaches us that our greatest power lies in our submission to God. It is easy to feel the power of Christ as he dismisses the tempter with disdainful ease. Despite the counterintuitive sound, we are actually strongest when we are humble, and when we give God the place he deserves.

Finally, atop the temple, Jesus refuses to put on a spectacular show of his power. We thrive on celebrity; glossy magazines stoke the vanity of VIPs and exploit the curiosity of the masses. But vanity plays itself out in many other, far more subtle ways. Many of our actions, good ones included, can be contaminated with our desire to be noticed. In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, he issued a stern warning about this, referring to the “hypocrites” who make a big show of their generosity in order to win the applause of their peers. The more we can shift the focus off ourselves and more on Christ, the more we will be able to live the spirit of Lent. God must come first!
 

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