1st Sunday of Lent – Cycle B
1 Gn 9:8-15, Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 1 Pt 3:18-22, Gospel: Mk 1:12-15
What would Jesus Drive?
In the Gospel today we learn the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert where he remained for forty days, tempted by Satan. When I read this verse, I was struck with a profound thought that led me to some intense scripture study. The Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert? [[PAUSE]] What kind of car did they drive?
After hours of searching the scriptures, I finally found the answer to this life-altering question - What would Jesus Drive? [[PAUSE]] A Honda Accord – John 12:49 – Jesus says “I do not speak of my own accord…” Well, I knew that had to be true because the Apostles followed his example as Acts 5:12 demonstrates “all the Apostles were in one accord…” as well.
Now, I am sure that the car aficionados here with us today are brighter than I am, because later I learned that the Honda Accord was not invented until 1976, so I have to go and rethink my understanding of Sacred Scripture.
Jesus is tempted in the Desert – This Lent we ought to arm ourselves to understand the dynamics of temptation.
Let’s take a second run at this. Why did the Holy Spirit drive Christ out into the desert? – So that Christ could be tempted by the Devil. Christ is fully God, but He is also fully man, and as a man He was tempted like the rest of us.
What is the nature of Temptation?
Because it is early in Lent it is good for us to reflect on the nature of temptation so that we can learn to imitate Christ when confronted by temptation to sin.
Pope St. Gregory the Great – The path between Temptation and Sin
Temptation is the tool that Satan uses to lure us away from God. St. Gregory the Great taught about the path from temptation to sin. Gregory taught that there are three waypoints on the journey from temptation to sin. The waypoints are:
· We hear a suggestion (from the Devil)
· We think about the suggestion
· We act on the suggestion
The Temptation of Ice Cream.
If I gave up Ice Cream for Lent, then after dinner I might be thinking about desert and the suggestion might come to me that Ice Cream would be an excellent desert. The thought enters my mind, and I begin to think. My stomach hears what my mind was thinking and says – yes, and makes some yummy grumbling noises. My mind begins to fantasize about how sweet and choclatey and smooth and creamy that ice cream would be sitting in a big bowl while I eat it. I begin to see how good Ice Cream is until I sit down with the mega-jumbo bucket of ice cream and start shoveling it in. I have fallen to the temptation to eat Ice cream and before I know it I have eaten five pounds of the stuff.
Temptation to sin
For most of us temptation to Ice Cream is not the problem, it is the temptation to something else, Pornography, abuse of Alcohol or Drugs, Stealing, Violence. I use Ice Cream as an example, but we can all see that we follow the same through process with whatever our temptation to sin is.
4 Defenses against sin.
Knowing the steps from temptation to sin can help us to recognize where we are along that path and to avoid the sin that leads us away from God. Taking St. Gregory’s waypoints we can now think about some defenses that might be useful this Lent.
Defense 1 - Avoid the suggestion
For some sins, yes, or at least we can reduce the amount of suggestion that we suffer from. First, we can pray and ask for the grace and strength to avoid the suggestion. Some sins are more easily triggered by sight. Pornography, for example. If we know that we are tempted by pornography, then get rid of the things in our lives that bring that suggestion to us, our computers, or books or movies or magazines. If we aren’t exposed to them, then they are less likely to tempt us.
Defense 2 - Thinking about the greater good
When we are confronted with a suggestion, we begin to think about it because we need to make a choice. Most suggestions from the Devil try to make us choose between two lesser goods without acknowledging that there is a greater good that we should see clearly. This is part of the reason why Lent is a season of penance. Lent is penitential to help us to see the big picture – that God loves us and that God wants the best for us. Often times the devil wants us to choose between a lesser good and nothing. This was the case with Eve in the Garden of Eden – “Eve” he said “do you want the knowledge of Good and Evil or do you want to be ignorant?” Eve failed to think about the consequence of eating the fruit. She didn’t realize that she would lose her relationship with God which was far better than the knowledge of good and evil. Eve failed to see the big picture; she chose the lesser good and so fell into sin.
The temptation of Alcohol
If my temptation is the abuse of alcohol and when I drink I drink myself into a stupor then I may be avoiding some pain or difficulty. The temptation presents itself to me in the form of – “Do you want to feel good or not”. Rather than “Do you want to be free of this pain (seek Christ’s healing) or suffer from the effects of Alcoholism – heart disease, sirosis of the liver”? When we face Temptation we often miss the big picture. Let us not be fooled!
Defense – 3 – Act – choose the greater good.
The third waypoint that St. Gregory spoke of is that of what we choose to do, how we choose to act. Temptation turns into sin based on what we choose to do. It is in acting that we sin, or avoid sin. For most of us, when we only consider the two choices that the devil tempts us with, we choose the better of the two. It is an illusion; he distracts us from the bigger picture
This Lent is an opportunity for us to choose the greater good, and to act in a way to free us from our sin. St. Peter reminds us in the second reading that our Baptism was not to “clean the dirt from our body”, but that it is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience”. This means that God gives us the grace in our Baptism to see the big picture and to act in a way that leads us into the embrace of God’s love.
Defense 4 - Trapped on the path from Temptation to Sin?
Many of us here today are trapped on the path from Temptation to Sin. All of our defenses have failed, and we find ourselves mired in sin and stuck. Fortunately, there is a defense even when we are trapped in sin – forgiveness. If we are trapped and we want to escape then it is easy, ask for God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation.
The Light is on for you – A new way
The Church is here to help us on our journey this Lent by offering us the sacrament of reconciliation. This is where we experience the healing forgiveness of God’s love at work in our lives. This Lent the Church has a special program to help us to deal with Temptation. It is called “The Light is on for You”. This Wednesday, you can go to any Catholic Church in the Archdiocese from 4:30 to 7:00 PM and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we go to confession we receive grace from Christ, healing for the wounds that we have suffered while trapped on the path from Temptation to Sin and grace to choose a new way in our lives, to grow in holiness.
Jesus did not fall for either lesser good
Jesus was tempted in the desert, but he never fell into the Devil’s trap. He always had the big picture of God’s love for us in mind and so he was able to act in a way that was consistent with God’s will. He did not fall for the two lesser choices, but rather chose to take the third option – he chose the Kingdom of God. He chose to see the love that God has for us, and then to live out that love in His life and ministry.
After the desert we are free to do the work of God
When Christ finished his time of temptation in the desert he left there and began his mission, to proclaim the Good News of God. He went to Galilee and proclaimed “that the kingdom of God is at hand”.
The ministry of Jesus was to tell us about the third choice that the Devil does not want us to see. In order to see it, we need to change how we act, this is the meaning of the word “Repent” – to change our ways, to choose to act in a new way. Don’t take the choices that Satan offers you when he suggests something to you, choose the kingdom of God, that is what it means to believe in the Gospel.