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FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Reading 1 DT 25:4-10

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”

Responsorial Psalm 91:1-2,10-15

R. (cf. 15b)  Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading 2 ROM 10:8-13

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart

—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Verse Before The Gospel MT 4:4

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Gospel LK 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

REflECTION ON TODAY’S Gospel READING

The late Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer gave a well-remembered homily on the first temptation  and, in his unique way, added a little narrative twist : “Let’s up the ante for Christ. ‘Turn these rocks into bread says,’ the Devil, ‘and we’ll feed all the starving children of the world.” What would our Blessed Lord do? History has an answer for that, I believe. During the second World War, a German bishop was preaching against the Nazis. The Nazis came to him and said, ‘You have a choice: Either sign this concordant with us and stop preaching against us, or we’ll kill all your Catholics.’ What do you think the bishop did? He signed the concordant and stopped preaching against them. Guess what happened? The Nazis killed his Catholics anyway, which goes to show, If you go to dine with devil, you need a LONG SPOON!”

Hilary was quite the relativistic thinker, which always made his homilies exciting. So too is Fr. Justin. After one homily, which I remember well, Justin was asked whether a certain land strip might be the actual Promised land. Justin answered, “The Promised land is whatever is beneath your feet, despite and through all the challenges that come with life.”

I like to tie these together; In Hilary’s homily, that cave of temptation was Justin’s promised land beneath the feet, despite a formidable advisory, despite a starving Christ, deprived of a soft bed and warmth. For the devil, be he a figure in a cave or a nazi stormtrooper, not taking that spoon is inconceivable; it’s the spoon of “winners;”  the spoon of “winning,” that will teleport you to a NEW promised land where the grass is always greener, where your belly will always be full, where manna will fall from the sky and you’ll never be wanting. Perhaps Christ remembered that he was born in a filthy cave, to immigrants who found no room at the inn. Now here he was, in a similar filthy cave, facing Hell himself.  Yet, that first cave gave birth to Unconditional Love and so also the second cave was occupied with Unconditional Love manifested in the form of the now adult Christ, who knew, despite appearances and even general comforts, that this was his promise land. With focus, he planted his feet there and kept that long spoon firmly in palm, by his side, determinedly resisting the Devil’s triptych of Hedonism, Egoism, and Martialism.

It’s an apt Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent. On the surface, it might be taken as a reading about self-denial. Of course there’s edification in that. However, it’s not so much about denial as realizing that the promised land isn’t even a physical place. Rather, it is a place of spirit and mind where Unconditional Love grits teeth and mantles clear-eyed vision that will resurrect through every Hell, seizing and holding the earth of that paradise beneath one’s feet.

(Paintings of the three temptations (( Hedonism, Egoism, Materialism)) © 2019, Alfred Eaker