First Sunday in Lent March 1st, 2020
Today we return to our origins and remember who we are, how we are meant to be, and how the story has changed. Where life was meant to be shared [Genesis], God's word was perverted and God’s image in people (others and ourselves) was disfigured and maimed. The readings are very contemporary: about our lives and inconsistencies, of struggles to be faithful, of broken relationships, of the search for wisdom, the fullness of life, of a meaningful relationship with God and one another that embraces a compassionate responsibility for every living being.
When Jesus was baptized and revealed by the Spirit as God’s own beloved, he needed to discern how to live with that knowledge and to wrestle, as do we, who or what will define his identity. Will it be a hostile, albeit, subtle other (the tempter, or today church, or government, or corporation) who does the defining, or will allow God define us as ‘beloved’?
I am reading a book The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary by Catherine Gray. After a quest for an extraordinary life ended in addictions and depression she has learned to mine the wonder in the ordinary. She desperately wanted to work on glossy women’s magazines and despite a low pay, lead what she called a charmed, gilded and extraordinary life. With time, she grew accustomed to the life and wanted more. She was always wanting and seeking the extraordinary but when she got it she wanted to be even more extraordinary. Interestingly, she thought people who were happy with their lot were dim nitwits who had had the wool pulled over their eyes, settled for the substandard and would never reach the peaks that she had sought. But she did not expect her quest for the extraordinary would lead to alcohol addiction. She was known only for her smoking and drinking. She spent her 20’s perpetually disappointed and entered her early 30’s in a panic at the life boxes she had not been able to tick. Her peers got further ahead and she felt more hopeless when contemplating where she was and struggle needed to catch up. Suicidal thoughts followed depression especially as drank too much. She was attracted to men who were not bothered with her. She alienated her work contacts. She Googled ‘Painless ways to commit suicide’ but actually found a deterrent site. She realised there is no painless way and was made aware of the great distress it would cause her loved ones. The website saved her life and she called her father for help. She was able to change her perceptions. The joy in the ordinary allowed her to notice the beauty around her and not let everyday pleasures go unnoticed. She came to see that an ordinary day begins to create the same sensation as an extraordinary day. The sum of its parts creates the same whole.
On another level, many communities and nations are addicted to immediate satisfaction that has, and continues to, lead to exploitative behaviour and corporate irresponsibility. Greed has led to a shortage of resources for many, human trafficking and stolen wages, unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels, climate change and devastation of natural resources and the extinction of many species. The desire for power and fame, as just mentioned, has led to celebrity voyeurism, dissatisfaction with quiet and gentle living, and an increasing sense of powerlessness among those who are unable to reach the heights of fame that our world seems to demand.
Jesus’ example of facing temptation and overcoming it reminds us that justice can only be done as we learn to live lives of discipline and simplicity, of consideration and sharing, of prayer and service. Jesus was tempted to see God’s reign in terms of controlling everything –where the world would be pain-free if he took power to himself – thus making a sham of any genuine love. Obtaining worldly power demands turning one’s back on God, our sisters and brothers – particularly the most vulnerable and the rest of creation.
Pope Francis has described the devil’s kingdoms as the places where ‘everything comes under the laws of competition ... where the powerful feed upon the powerless’ (Evangelii Gaudium, ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ #53). Jesus offers an unequivocal ‘no’ to the idolatry of power; he declines a life that is dedicated to service of self rather than love, compassion, solidarity and justice. There is a rejection of the enticements to power and greed the source of violence and division that was depicted in Genesis. The call to Jesus and to us is to say ‘yes’ to our identity as God’s beloved and its implications in our lives. Our humanity is constantly attacked: to think small, to be mean; to be loveless; to seek violent ways of responding to conflict; to seek the easy way out.
The gospel is about seeing, hearing and touching; how we grow in compassion; how love and compassion with justice can be made visible; how we stand with others and be there for them; how to bring hope to the story of disfigurement and maiming in others and in creation. Can we listen to Jesus with ears open to the truth? Can we make a space (in prayer) to be more sensitive to others and respond in ways that touch them that lead to healing? Can we hear God clamouring through the voices and situations of people around us? Can we allow our heart to be broken open so that the world can enter? Jesus models a way to be human; how we can be people with a heart and passion of God for humanity and creation. He models ways to resist whatever does not promote fullness of life for all.
We see in the temptations the drive to substitute the ordinary for the extraordinary; self-centredness for solidarity; obsession with reputation and power for vulnerability; and the need to control and manipulate rather than relinquish control.
When presented with political power in the world and tempted to show his stuff and muster his magic, Jesus reserves glory for God alone. This is the power that goes into arms manufacturing, development of nuclear weapons, despoliation of forests and jungles for agriculture and mining and substituting vengeance and revenge as a mistaken short cut to peace. The story of temptations should be read with an eye towards the attitudes of human beings toward power - those attitudes present in Jesus' time as well as those attitudes we see present in our time.
Jesus offers an alternative to the way of power and domination of the world. The sin of the ‘first humans’ was to reject their humanness. Jesus would not step outside the confines of humanity. Even when ‘good ends’ were dangled in front of him, he resisted displays of control, power, domination and manipulation. He chose to draw people to himself by fully identifying with them and going into the wilderness. That is where the people are!!
Choices was clearly portrayed in the movie Of Gods and Men for seven foreign Trappist monks during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990’s. Their mission was to witness to a life of prayer, contemplation and service amongst poor Muslim people by providing them medical assistance, education and other services. Day by day, as the terrorism grew more intense, the monks witnessed the townspeople being bullied or ruthlessly murdered. The monks had a choice. In one scene, the monks meet. Do they leave for safety or remain with the people and face certain death? They are in the wilderness as struggle with their fears, their faith and their passion. What would they decide? What would we decide? The monks do decide and pay with their lives. Like Jesus in the wilderness, they offer us, despite the tears and apprehension, the possibility of another way to live and what the world might look like when transformed by the spirit of Christ.
Lent is about healing - our healing and the world’s healing; about connecting with one another, the environment and God; about redistribution and solidarity; about compassion; about making God’s heart visible in our lives.
Rev Peter J. Gomes says, ‘The question should not be 'What would Jesus do?' but rather, more dangerously, 'What would Jesus have me do?' The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.’
Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Justice and Peace Centre, Enmore
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]
President, Pax Christi Australia