We have begun the liturgical preparation for the renewal of our baptisms and the reception of those seeking entrance into the Church. Lent might be the season of prepositions as well. Does one decide to give up, or give over, or give to, or give back?
The real meaning of Lent is about receiving again. Through the liturgical readings and prayers of these days, we are reminded of how God has handed to us, the Eternal Son with a loving desire that we allow the Gift to be handed to us again and again. We come to each Eucharist to be regathered and reminded of the conditions into which the Son was given and is now given to us. We prepare for our baptismal renewal by coming together as Church, as Christ’s Body and admit our condition to which we receive Him once more.
A large portion of the Book of Deuteronomy is dedicated to proper religious behavior within the Israelite community. For a very particular example, read verses eleven and twelve from the previous chapter to the chapter from which we hear in today’s First Reading.
What we do here is a bit of the history behind the liturgical actions prescribed by Moses. In several verses from this book and from the Book of Leviticus, the role of the priests is to receive the first-fruits of the harvests. Then there is a communal prayer reflective of the reasons the fruits are handed over. God, through Moses, rescued Israel and each person individually, from the slavery of Egypt. God handed over the soil as a gift and the people were to multiply as well. The first-born of the family and of the flock were likewise dedicated in thanksgiving to the handing-over God. So too as a sign of dependence and gratitude for the soil, the people were to hand over some of what they had received. After this holy prayer of remembrance and surrender, the liturgical gesture will be to physically bow down in reverence of the presence of the One and Holy God.
We hear in today’s Gospel, the familiar drama of Jesus’ being tempted by the devil. Jesus had received His being baptized according to Jewish custom. Again, as the rescued nation of Israel past through water from slavery in a foreign land to freedom on their own holy soil, so each Jewish person would enter the Jordan river to then emerge cleansed from personal slavery and again stand renewed on the ground of freedom. During His being baptized, Jesus heard His identity as the Beloved One. He heard it, received it, and then began living it. What we hear is both the three temptations proffered by the devil and the three affirmations by Jesus of Who He knew Himself to be. So are they less temptations, but more a context for Jesus to begin showing up as Who He had heard He was.
The key word in the devil’s presentation is “if”. This conditional word moves the whole scene into the subjunctive, or “contrary to present fact” mood. Jesus remains in the “in the indicative, “affirmed actual fact” mood. The devil wants to offer or hand over to Jesus what is already in and of Jesus. The devil quotes scripture but says “if you are” and Jesus replies with scripture but denies the “if”.
Much has been spoken and written about how we too are tempted with offerings of power, domination and possessions, as was Jesus. Those are worthy temptations about which to consider all right, but in this context of Lent, the more important reality to consider is how we are tempted to deny our relatives our having been also baptized. Jesus lived out His “I am” because He had listened and believed He was the Beloved. We are preparing to enter again the water and grace of being reminded of who God in Christ, has said in the indicative mood and spirit, who each of us really is.
Jesus could listen to all temptations, challenges, and invitations to disown Himself, to fall down, to be unreal, because He listened once and often to the prayer of God over and within Him. Baptism, the Easter Sacrament, is our joining the Israelites as they entered often the river of remaindering. Jesus lived Who He had received from God. We follow Jesus in and out of the same waters of indicative identity.
We in our turn follow Him also in and out of the temptational fields of our lives. We forget so easily. If we don’t tell the stories of our pasts we will forget who we are. As young American/Irish children, we would visit our aged relatives often and especially on St. Patrick’s Day. We would be lined up in front of them and we would sing the songs of our ethnic history accompanied with much sentiment. We would hear the old stories and be dressed in appropriate colors. We were reminded that the Gillicks of County Cavan in Ireland were royalty, actually kings! We learned who we were by what we heard and then lived. The only problem was that not one of our neighbors, nor the kids on the playground nor our teachers, treated any of us appropriately. Even our parents would occasionally forget. Irish royalty walking right down the streets of the south side of Milwaukee; we were the only ones who knew it. My siblings continue this tradition. If they don’t celebrate their cultic and family histories, why they’d forget just how wonderful and blest they are.
Our forty days have begun. Our preparing to celebrate our identity has begun. We will listen to the stories, sing the songs, do the things which reveal to ourselves who we really are. We will receive again our name, our holiness. The real new life flows from the truth that we will do those things which reveal who we know ourselves to be. The people of Israel knew who God named them by their being baptized through the Exodus. They were to live in community doing the holy things of which offering the first fruits was a sign. We too have received our names through our being immersed in the baptismal waters of indicativity.
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