1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C–2019

FIRST READING  Deuteronomy 26:4-10

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 first fruits 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.

SECOND READING  Romans 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.”

GOSPEL  Luke 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.

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Can you remember the last time you struggled to successfully complete a task at home, at work, or at school?  Do you remember the relief that you felt when it was done, particularly to the satisfaction of a spouse, parent, boss, or teacher? The hours of work, perhaps accompanied by an excess of anxiety and stress, yielded a positive outcome.  Such a process can energize a person to begin again, renewed, prepared to take on future challenges.  Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath writes about various seeming afflictions that may in fact have significantly contributed to the success of the recipients of those afflictions.  In today’s readings we are reminded that perseverance yields fruits and we as Christians are called upon to persevere, not alone, but with God.

Lent invites us to a greater intimacy with God that we might more acutely recognize His presence in our lives as we persevere.  Lent is a time that tests us.  We are asked to put energy into becoming more faithful to all the Jesus asks of us.  We show that energy–to ourselves, not to others–by taking up some small practices that will help us remember that we belong to the Lord and rely on His strength.  We do not fast and pray and do penance so that others can admire us.  No, we fast and pray and do penance so that we can move from the slavery of sin to the freedom of grace, the freedom of living in the power of Jesus Christ.  Fasting and praying require perseverance, as exemplified by the early Hebrews who persevered against great odds, and with and through God they were delivered from their sufferings.

The Book of Deuteronomy prepares us to understand the perseverance required to be free from slavery.  American abolitionist Frederick Douglass characterized slavery as much more than the removal of human rights, but the expungement of humanity of itself.  The early Hebrews felt the physical distresses of slavery, but for Christians the far baser state is slavery to sin.  The Hebrews persevered, and God answered their calls for help.

The Letter to the Romans, gives us the way in which we can persevere from slavery to freedom.  The way in which we can resist temptation is clearly revealed:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  To pray in the name of Jesus is to invoke him as Savior, to welcome him, and carry on a dialogue with him.  How much easier it is to persevere through our difficulties with Jesus than without him!

And, Jesus did not persevere alone, either.  The temptations of Christ in the desert are those of all human beings:  the urge to live by our desires and needs rather than by the Word of God, the presumption that God will save us even if we do nothing and the temptation to want power and dominion over others.  The early Christians came to identify seven major sins–that means seven major ways of leaving the path of the Lord:  pride, anger, lust, greed, envy, gluttony and spiritual laziness.  We are exhorted to overcome these seven major sins and return to the path of the Lord.  It will not happen in one day or forty days; it will take a lifetime of perseverance to cling to the path of the Lord.  We pray that by His mercy we will experience the ultimate goal of Christian life which is salvation.

Lent is a time of struggle for each of us with whatever pulls us off the path of the Lord.  This First Sunday of Lent is a time to reflect on the Lord Jesus and His struggle with the devil and for us to resolve to struggle against the devil and all evil in our own lives.  We can bring our struggles to the Lord and set them before Him and bow down in his presence.  Through our perseverance and with God, we may one day enjoy His everlasting grace and love.