RESISTING TEMPTATION ON OUR JOURNEY TO SALVATION
HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C. Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13 and Luke 4:1-13.
On Ash Wednesday, we began a journey, which will last for forty days and today we celebrate the first Sunday of lent. The season of lent commemorates the forty days Christ spent in the desert. It is a great moment of retreat for the Church as a whole and as individuals. Traditionally, we reflect on the temptations of Christ every first Sunday of lent. By His temptations, we are called to reflect on what could be our own temptations on our journey to salvation.
The first reading presents to us the journey of Israel from the time of Jacob and his family in the land of Canaan, to the family’s going down into Egypt, and to the eventual deliverance and Exodus into the Promise Land. “The wondering Aramean who went to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number and there he became a nation, great, mighty and populous” (Deut. 26:5). In the beginning of the sojourn of Jacob’s family, they enjoyed Joseph’s benevolence, but in time when “A new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8) emerged, he enslaved the Israelites. “The Egyptians made their lives bitter in all kinds of hard service, in which they ruthlessly made them serve” (Ex. 1:14). The reading says, “They were treated harshly and laid upon them hard bondage” (Deut. 26:6).
In their misery, the Israelites remembered God and prayed for delivery. “The Lord heard their voice, saw their afflictions, their toil and oppression, and brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand…to a land flowing with milk and honey” (vv.7-9). The Israelites spent over four hundred (400) years in Egypt. Yet, in the course of God’s eternal plan of salvation, it was nothing more than a sojourn or journey. We too can focus on our time of trial or misery that we think defines our whole life; God saw Israel’s experience in Egypt as temporal or a sojourn. Our trying moments or hard times could be our journey to salvation.
To possess the salvific plan of God, St. Paul in the second reading tells us that we must believe and have faith in Christ as our Lord and Saviour; “For every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Our belief and our faith will constantly motivate us in this journey of salvation.
Christ in the gospel had his sojourn in the wilderness. He was led by the Spirit and was there in the wilderness for forty days, where he was tempted by Satan. Being led or driven by the Spirit is an indication that all Christ did while on earth was through the prompting and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. From birth, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit; at baptism he was filled with the Holy Spirit; His public ministry was accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit and at death on the cross, he gave up the Spirit.
In order to carry out the plan of God to save humanity, he stayed in the wilderness for forty days, which represents a long period. It indicates the necessary time for something new to happen, such as: the promise of rain to Noah for forty days and nights that will purify or wash the earth from its sinful and corrupt nature; Moses staying up on the mountain for forty days and nights with nothing to eat nor drink just to receive the stone tablets of the covenant; it represents the forty days’ journey of Elijah to mount Sinai; and this long period of time is also represented by the forty years of the Israelite’s journey to the promise land. Christ’s fasting for forty days is a preparation for his mission, which is something new to humanity and after his resurrection, he stayed forty days before his Ascension to heaven. Hence, forty indicates an important period in our journey of faith, particularly this season of lent.
Importantly, the three temptations of Christ correspond to the temptations Israel experienced in the wilderness of which they failed, but Christ did not fail. The temptation to turn stone to bread is analogous to Israel’s failure to trust God for sustenance in the wilderness. They complained of food and eventually God gave them manna from above (Ex.16:4-5). The temptation of Christ to gain the kingdom of the world by worshipping the devil is analogous to Israel’s temptation to worship other gods, of which God prohibits (Deut. 6:13-15). Finally, the temptation of Christ to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple is analogous to Israel’s testing of God at Massah and Meribah where they quarreled and complained of thirst and the Lord gave them water from the rock of Horeb (Ex.17:6-7).
Christ going into the wilderness signifies a place of emptiness and isolation. As such, we like Christ shall lack comfort, convenience and consolation this season of lent. We will need to give up many things in order to travel light on this forty-day journey. As Satan in the wilderness tempted Christ, we too shall be tempted by the devil this season in various ways. Let us remember that the devil tempts us through the most beautiful things around us. The devil will tempt us through our families, friends and neighbours. He tempts us through quick money syndrome, sexual feelings and emotions. Know it that the devil is a coward, he attacks during our weakest moments, when he knows our resistance to sin is very weak. That is why we must stand up to him, strong in faith and good works with the ingredients that spice up this season: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. May God deliver us from all that is evil and lead us not into temptation through Christ our Lord. Amen!
Have a fruitful season of Lent!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ