So as to be more available to the graces of the liturgy’s readings,
we might imagine Jesus’ sitting on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem,
holding a loaf of bread from which he is eating. We see him shaking his head
in a definite negative motion.
We have begun our religious observance of preparing for Easter with our
receiving ashes and the “Lenten Challenge.” The theme of these readings
moves us to consider God’s promise to be faithful in freeing us from our
Egypts and God’s giving us the Christ who remained faithful to his identity
We pray with the truth of our needs for being freed. We pray for
the grace of a fidelity which resists, not merely temptations, but disorienting
calls to wander in deserts of unfruitful indolence and self-preoccupation.
We could ask ourselves what we want for Lent as we might have been asked
about what we wanted for Christmas. We can pray for Lenten joy which comes
from resisting negativity, self-absorption and envy.
It is Leap Year Day when our clocks catch up with the cosmic chronometer.
As we say, “There’s a homily in there somewhere.” The catching up with something
bigger, something outside us and yet inside might be lent.
Moses is speaking in the First Reading about a time-bound yearly ritual.
After a brief liturgical instruction, Moses teaches them a liturgical prayer
or hymn. The first stanza recalls the basic elements of the exodus and the
possessing of the land. This “land” remains the abundant, always present
sacrament which was continuing the life God gave them through the Passover.
In the second section of the hymn, there is the presenting of the “firstfruits”
of the land. Elsewhere in the Pentateuch, there have been instructions about
how the firstfruits of human procreation as well as those of farm animals,
and the earliest produce from the fields should all be presented, in ritual,
to the Lord.
The ritual of which Moses is speaking concludes with an instruction
of how to end the liturgy. It is a reminder within the Israelite community
that there is a God, a loving God, and a God who desires to express that
love. The human response is reception, gratitude, acknowledgement and worship.
In this way, the people will recall that they are the beloved nation and this
love has been shown in the exodus, the land, and the abundance of the life-sustaining
The Gospel is Luke’s account of Jesus’ affirming his identity as announced
at his baptism. He was tempted by the devil after the Holy Spirit had led
him out into the desert. After forty days, he was hungry and set up for a
The “desert” is more than a place of wandering, but more a place of God’s
testing and the one tested, proves faithful. So the scene is set and the
Tempter arranges three devices or traps.
Much can be made of the “temptations;” more can be made of Jesus’ statements
of self-acceptance and trust in the One who has called him.
To Luke’s Greek readers, Jesus resists three important human attractions,
which proves Jesus to be whole and worthy of trust and belief. Jesus is tempted
firstly to violate creation. Stones are stones and not to be changed or
misused. Jesus accepts the creational pattern and refuses to have the Creator
do tricks so as to affirm from outside that which has been accepted inside.
The second affirmation of Jesus is his denial that worshipping the Devil
is proper human response. The Devil makes a universal statement about his
kingdom’s being the entire world. The battle lines are drawn for the first
time here. The tug-of-war for the domination of the world still continues.
To “serve” God is proper worship and God alone labors to bring that kingdom
about. Power and prestige do not result in service, but service results
in the “kingdom.”
The final affirmation takes place in Jerusalem, high up on the top of
a pinnacle. Luke spends his Gospel bringing Jesus up to this very city.
He visited the temple when he was twelve according to the Law. He will enter
Jerusalem according to his salvific mission at the end of his life. The Devil
questions directly Jesus’ trust in God as well as his identity. “If” is the
temptation and Jesus” if” is not in question. “how” God is going to support
him when he does dash his foot against the stones of his journey is more
than a question. It is the theme of the rest of Luke’s Gospel.
The Devil was moving pretty fast and was asking Jesus to catch up. The
Tempter was offering all that the world loves and embraces. Jesus did not
leap at the chance, but Luke pictures him as sticking to his own sweet time.
Jesus believed whom his Father announced him to be at the Annunciation, the
Nativity and the Baptism. The Holy Spirit, according to Luke led Jesus out
in the desert. For Luke the Spirit is always incarnating, announcing and
making more public, the Christ of God.
For Lent, catching up with the world’s ways will be a good something to
give up for forty days, or years. To do that, trusting God’s care and trusting
our truest identity through the Holy Spirit’s blessing would be a good response.
Our materialistic culture is waiting to do tricks for us and will give us
delightful, but false identities.
It is not so much a matter of what we possess, but what possesses us.
The Holy Spirit in our baptisms gave us our names. God owns us, but ever
so gently. Car-owners are owned by their cars. People who own cars drive
them while knowing they themselves, are more than meets the eye. Lent
is a great and graced time to face our temptations and deface them gracefully.
It is a great time to advance at our own sweet pace. This year the cosmos
even gives us an extra day.
“The Lord will overshadow you, and you will
find refuge under his wings.” Ps. 91:4