I’m including a couple of messages that address today’s Gospel reading concerning Jesus’ temptations in the desert. One is a homily by Father Mike Schmitz, one is a message from Matthew Kelly. Father Mike’s video is the entire Mass; if you want to just hear his homily, fast forward to minute 9:15. It’s really, really good. So is Matthew K’s.

They have a couple of things in common. Father Mike says to “eliminate the option” and Matthew says to “have a strategy.” And both say unequivocally, “Do NOT engage with temptation!” Wise men, obviously very much in tune with the Lord our God and His precepts, aware of His love for us and of His grace and peace that can keep us on the right path. It’s a path that leads to Heaven, by the way. No small thing, right?

During Lent we are given the opportunity to emulate Jesus, to become more Christ-like, in meaningful and significant ways. And following the example of our Teacher is crucial.

We all know that the 40 Days of Lent mirror Jesus’ 40 Days in the desert just before He begins His public ministry. Jesus is given a Mission by the Father and Jesus’ humility and obedience to the Father’s will are one example for each of us to follow. Jesus is our brother (through baptism) and we, too, are children of God (because we are the ‘adopted sons and daughters ‘ of the Father.  (Found in Galatians 4:5-7)

According to author, Edward Sri, each of the 3 temptations Jesus experiences in the desert relate to the first 3 major trials of Israel in the Exodus. And in these 3 temptations we can see how our 3 disciplines of Lent are on display through Jesus’ response to them. And, praise God, the failings of Israel and all of us are symbolically overcome by Jesus’ victory over the devil.

  1. The first temptation involved hunger (This is related to the discipline of fasting) Jesus quotes from Deut. 8:3 in (Mt 4:1-4): “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word tht comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus fasts for 40 days. Our true spiritual hunger is our desire for God; and His for us. Our hunger is not for food except for that which is Jesus as the Bread of Life. And we can satiate our hunger and thirst for God when we fast from anything that gets in the way of our communion with Him, our relationship with Him
  2. The second temptation involved testing God (This is related to the discipline of almsgiving/works of charity) Jesus quotes Deut 6:16 in (Mt 4:5-7): “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Jesus rejects the goods of the world because He knows what is eternally Good and will always satisfy. Trusting that God will take care of us means we can be generous with His gifts; none of them are ours anyway. Whether it’s giving away things we thought we needed or even might need ‘some day’ or actually abstaining from foods or activities that we love, we realize we don’t ‘need’ those to be authentically happy, we are showing our faith in God’s ability to provide for us what is most essential – spiritually. And we are growing more in our trust and faith in God’s love and care for us so that we don’t need to ‘hang on’ to earthly things to feel secure or content. We won’t feel the need to ‘test God.’ Or another way to say that might be, we won’t see a need to doubt God’s desire of all that is good for us. For God is the ultimate Good. He wants us in relationship with Him. There is no need to say to God, “If you love me, you will do…‘X’…for me.” We just have to look to the cross to know He loves us. He loves us so much, He dies for us, to save us.
  3. The third trial for Jesus in the desert involved worshipping false gods or idols. (This is related to the discipline of prayer.) Jesus quotes Deut 6: 13-14 in (Mt 4: 8-10): “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus lets the devil know in no uncertain terms where His loyalty lies and that is with God, the Creator of the Universe, our Heavenly Father who loved us into being. In this passage we are reminded by Jesus that only God is to be worshiped and adored. Prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God – it’s true communion with Him. We are not looking for what will fill our hearts anywhere but in God’s love for us.

You know, when we spend any time really thinking about what’s just happened in the desert, with these 3 temptations we see in crystal clear imagery that Jesus fights our battles for us. He does. Oh, we will be tempted; we will stumble and fall. But the ultimate Victory is Jesus’ victory and we can find shelter there, respite there, comfort there; we can find joy there. That’s what we’ll see on Easter Sunday, early in the morning when it’s still dark and we could mistake it for night.

That’s the Resurrection – Jesus defeating the darkness of evil and “marching into hell for a heavenly cause” – to get us and save us, leaving none of us behind. Edward Sri states in his book about the Gospel of Matthew, God With Us, that “the Church’s annual celebration of Lent helps us experience the victory of Jesus in our own lives today…We too prepare to battle sin” in these 40 days. And that takes trust in God, unlike the Israelites in the desert who kept abandoning their faith in God’s promises, and it requires our faithfulness to the Heavenly Father, just like Jesus

            Psalm 22 is appropriate for this Lenten season because this is the Psalm that Jesus uses as He hangs on the cross. It is the 4th utterance of Jesus before He expires.  We hear it on Good Friday. “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” Psalms of Lament could be for individuals or for communities. They are often prayed during times of atonement for sin by people of the Jewish faith.

            It is a time to reflect on how hard life is. And we all know that sometimes it is very tough. Jesus tells us that this is how it will be. He offers no apologies or excuses for that fact. We live in a fallen world; that won’t change until Jesus comes back and we are truly living in Heaven on Earth.

            But Jesus does give us a ‘heads up’ that this is how our life will be – that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. If Jesus does not escape troubles, if the Leader we are asked to follow must endure hardships, heartache, abandonment, slander, loneliness, pain – why, oh why, would we think we can escape the same? (Though, of course, Jesus promises He will always be with us in this life.)

            And, in that lament where we count the ways in which we are in agony, or mistreated, or in anguish and grief, in the end, we will praise God for His goodness, His presence, His love. And so that same Psalm that has the Psalmist (and Jesus) asking why God has abandoned Him, ends with the same person praising God for His glory.

            Once again, that’s our example of what we can do. Our Divine Leader shows us the way. Unite your suffering with Jesus’ suffering. Offer up your pain – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – with His. Jesus redeemed the world, but not everyone was willing to accept His sacrifice.

            But the Psalms show us and Jesus, in repeating the words of one of them, tells us that it’s OK to question once in a while. It really is human to ask, “Where are you?” or “how long must I endure this?” (that’s in another psalm). Our very human, frail hearts will want to know why something terrible is happening or explain to God, even though He already knows, how hard something is for us. He wants to hear from us – in good times and bad. Just like any loving parent. That’s what I love about the Psalms. They are so human. They reveal the human heart and its relationship to God. He knows our hearts anyway; we may as well be honest with God.

            We see how humans never really change; we see how God is always patient with us when we complain or whine or are impatient with Him. We see through the Psalms that God wants to hear from us. Whatever it is we have to say. God knows our hearts already. Why would we try to hide our true feelings from Him? Why do we think we can mask our anger or frustration from Him? He knows. Own up to it. Talk to Him honestly. But then don’t forget to praise Him! Just as the Psalmist does and just as Jesus does. Because, even though Jesus only says aloud the first few words of Psalm 22, be assured that He KNOWS the rest of the Psalm. He knows how it ends. And He KNOWS how this plan of Salvation of His Father and our Father ends.

            Jesus is heading toward Paradise, but even then in His suffering and abandonment by all but His Mother and John at the foot of the cross, abandoned by the betrayers and the deniers and the cowards, lacking all courage and losing all trust in Him, He asks God “why,” but then He praises God.

            Let our prayer be that we can have such faith. When Jesus says in the garden at Gethsemane to the Apostles, as He goes to pray alone, “Pray not to be put to the test” and when He teaches us to pray that way in the Our Father, (“we now say it as “lead us not into temptation,” but there are translations that say, “do not put us to the test”), we are really praying for that kind of faith.

            It’s a faith that praises God and is grateful to God, that beholds His glory even in the passion (suffering) in our experiences. Recall when I talked earlier about the second temptation of Jesus in the desert. Sometimes we test God. It has to do with unbelief that He will save us. Maybe our ‘testing’ God is holding on to the material things and corporal comforts of this earthly life because we don’t trust that God is going to provide or we don’t believe that He is enough. The test has to do with a lack of faith in the power and the grace God provides when we open ourselves up to that with abandon, when we surrender to Him. We want God to ‘prove’ His love. But just look at Jesus on the cross. One need look no further for the Truth.

            God is all good. God is merciful. God is love. We need to pray for an increase in faith, just like the Apostles ask Jesus in the Gospel. (Luke, Chapter 17, verse 5).

Have a blessed Lent! Sorry/not sorry this is so long!

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