Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

First Sunday in Lent- A Reflection on Temptation

This post is slightly different from most of my recent ones; it is an abridged version of my homily for the day.
The Gospel for the First Sunday in Lent is the familiar story of Christ's great Fast and Temptation (St. Matt. 4:1-11). As He was beginning His public ministry, our Lord withdrew to the Judean wilderness for a period of devotion. There the Tempter came and sought to catch Him in a moment of weakness. Satan used appealing lures, and even tried to confuse matters by quoting Scripture. St. Matthew tells us that there were three parts to the Temptation.

First, the Tempter tried to appeal to the needs and wishes of the physical nature. He urged Christ to satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread. Of course, Christ rejected this temptation. His work was to have a spiritual foundation, not a material one. He recognized and responded to human physical needs, but meeting those needs was not His main mission. He had come to bring the bread of heaven, the living Word of God, the source of true and eternal life.

Secondly, the Tempter tried to appeal to the natural human desire for approval and praise. The crowds in the streets would have really been impressed- at least for a few days- if Jesus had jumped from the pinnacle of the Temple to the pavement below without being hurt. Again Christ rejected the temptation. Jumping from the Temple would have tested the Father's mercy. It would have also caused some people to accept Jesus as Messiah for the wrong reason.; that is, from sheer amazement rather than from spiritual conviction.

Thirdly, the Tempter tried to use the appeal of worldly success and power. This temptation was basically political. If Jesus would only accept him as master, Satan offered great worldly influence and power. With such power, Christ would be able to order earthly society as He saw fit. Christ also rejected this great temptation. Submitting to the Evil One would corrupt everything that He tried to accomplish. Christ's kingdom was to have a completely different nature. It was to be a holy and spiritual kingdom based upon loyalty to Almighty God, the heavenly Father.

Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ rejected the three great temptations of the devil. Compromising with Satan was wrong; no end or goal, no matter how good it might seem, could justify truly evil means. Christ committed Himself and His ministry to the holy principles of His heavenly Father. He would remain steadfast in the paths of righteousness even when it meant rejection by the crowds and a tortuous death on the Cross.

In certain respects, the Temptation of Christ was unique. No one else has ever had to make such far-reaching spiritual choices. And no one else has ever resisted temptation so completely, without a trace of sin. Christ obeyed the heavenly Father's will, and through His perfect obedience, He became the Redeemer of all those who have a living faith in Him.

Yet, despite the uniqueness of Christ's Temptation, there are certain similarities with the temptations that all human beings face. We all face temptations for the same basic things: material comfort, human approval and worldly influence. We could consider countless examples of how these basic temptations take place in our lives. At work and in our families, we are constantly tempted to place our desires for comfort, approval or power above our spiritual and moral principles. However, today let us consider a corporate application to Christ's Church.

First, the Church has temptations of a physical or material nature. There is a tendency for parishes, dioceses and denominations to become too concerned about the material needs of the organization or for the physical needs of those we serve.
Now certainly, the Church must recognize that human beings have physical needs. We are to provide for the Church itself, and we are to reach out to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and so forth. But as we do these things, we must be aware of dangers and refuse to compromise with evil. We must always remember that being a social welfare agency is not the primary mission of Christ's Church. Although physical bread is needed, the Church's primary mission is the spiritual feeding of souls through Word and Sacrament.

Secondly, the Church is sometimes tempted to seek human approval in the wrong ways. Many contemporary religious groups try to dazzle or entertain people into being Christians. Sometimes, people seem to put God to the test by suggesting that flashy or emotional displays are at the heart of faith.
Although there may be dramatic moments in the life of faith, God more often has chosen to manifest Himself in simple and subtle ways. We must not do things just to impress the crowds on the street. Those who go to worship just for the spectacle are missing the Biblical message.

Thirdly, the Church is often tempted by worldly success or power. Over the centuries, Christianity has succumbed to this temptation repeatedly. For the sake of worldly influence, the Church has often compromised itself with emperors, kings and parliaments, with bureaucrats and corporations, with trade unions and political parties.
Certainly, the Church has a mission to all kinds of people, and individual Christians may be called to express their values in various social or political settings. However, the Church itself must avoid being bound too closely with any worldly power. The Church is the representative of a spiritual kingdom which transcends all earthly powers. As the Church, we are called to proclaim Christ as Savior and to embody His spiritual and moral mission.

In conclusion, Lent is a time for us to pause and be more aware of the nature and dangers of temptation. We need to recognize our weaknesses and our actual sins. We need to repent and seek divine grace. This is true of us as individuals; it is also true of the Church which is often caught up in the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. There is hope in all these temptations because Christ has already triumphed over Satan and won a victory for the faithful of all times. Christ is with us, and He can strengthen us as we face temptation, individually and corporately.

2 comments:

  1. Great words, Father Dennis!

    The temptation of Christ, in recent years, has become something of an anchor in my thought. When I took Gospels at Seminary, I remember Dr. Kruger's emphasis on Christ's saying "No" to the Devil. He had everything against Him. He was clothed in cursed human flesh, he hadn't eaten for forty days, he had just recently heard the Father declare Him to be the Son, yet He was undergoing great temptation and struggle, and, yes, He truly desired the nations, the hearts of men to be devoted to Him! How great the burden that was upon Christ in that moment.

    Yet, with all the odds stacked against Him, He emphatically took the Devil to task, and said, "No" to every temptation. Not even Adam had been able to do that! And he wasn't under the curse, he had a perfect uncorrupted nature, and he had succumbed to temptation and sinned. Still, though, with the entire track record of every man, woman, and child succumbing to temptation and sin, Christ said "No."

    That blows my mind away! Am I really united to this man in his death and resurrection?? The man who said no to Satan is now my brother and Lord and Savior?? How spectacular and amazing is that?? Which brings us to your conclusion: Christ has triumphed over the Devil for us! We know the Devil has been and can be defeated! Praise the Lord that He has done it for us!

    Thank you for the good words from the Lord this night! Grace and peace be with you tomorrow when you give these words to your flock!

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  2. Hi Jeremiah,
    Thank you for your personal words about the meaning of Christ's Temptation. Certainly, we all need to do such reflections. In re-reading your words, there was one phrase that gave me pause. I'm not sure if it was an off-hand comment or a quotation of the professor you mentioned. The phrase was "clothed in cursed human flesh." While there is a sense that from Adam and Eve on humanity is under a curse, such a phrase does not apply to Christ, the new Adam, conceived and born sinless. Without going into the whole history of Christology, it is true to say that Christ accepted certain human limitations while remaining pure.
    Hope you have had a good Sunday.

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