I Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2, 7-9; 3, 1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5, 12-19; Matthew 4, 1-11
Years ago the explorer, Richard Byrd, spent the winter alone at the South Pole. For almost 5 months he lived in total darkness, buried beneath the snow in a tiny room. The temperature in that room often dipped to 50 degrees below zero. Three times a day, Byrd climbed the stairs to the roof of his shelter, opened a trapdoor, pushed away the snow, and went out into the cold and darkness to record weather information.
Why did Byrd choose to live by himself during these months of total darkness? He answered that question in his book Alone where he says he did it because he wanted to get away from everything. He wanted to do some serious thinking. He writes: “And so it occurred to me . . . that here was the opportunity. . . . I should be able to live exactly as I chose, obedient to no necessities but those imposed by the wind and night and cold, and to no man’s law but my own.’’ After the first month of solitude, Byrd discovered something “good’’ happening. He discovered that you can live much more deeply and profoundly if you keep life simple and don’t clutter it with a lot of material things. Byrd emerged from his room a changed man. He ends his book with these words: “All this happened four years ago. Civilization has not altered my ideas. I live more simply now, and with more peace.”
We sometimes need to retire and go off into a desert to re-think our life and the forces present in it. We need to hide ourselves in a solitary place; we need to create a desert in our lives so to be able to think carefully about the demoniac forces and powers which try to terrorize our lives. And they are many.
There are the 7 capital sins or vices: pride, avarice, lust, gluttony, envy, anger, laziness.
1 - There is the temptation of the body which is famished and hungry, starving and lacking something, but not always necessarily food. The temptation of the body tries to dominate my life and tyrannize it. There is lust, the desire for any pleasure and not only what is sexual in nature. There is gluttony and laziness (a capital sin) – the bodily tyrants of our lives.
2 - The temptation of greed and materialism, the temptation of wanting to make more money, to possess more, and to have to be rich are all around us, these lead us to avarice and envy.
3 - And then there is the biggest temptation of all: pride - with our conceit, vanity and arrogance, the desire for power, the desire to dominate, and the arrogance of supremacy.
These forces are dominant in our contemporary society; these three temptations are present in the whole of our lives. Jesus had three proposals against these demoniac forces.....the three evangelical virtues:
1 - the virtue of chastity to counter the domination of the body - His answer: “one does not live by bread alone” – you are not only a carnal being, you are a spiritual being as well
2 - the virtue of poverty against the domination of money - His answer: “worship only the Lord your God” and not money, not material possessions
3 - the virtue of obedience against the domination of pride - His answer: “do not put the Lord your God to the test”. The obedience to the reason and not to the famished body, obedience to the conscience and not to the money, obedience to God.
These three “temptations” are dangerous because they reduce other people--- and even the material world--- to things that can be used purely for my personal gain. They are dangerous because they create a world and a society in which everyone has to compete to get as much for themselves as they can.
In such a rat race, a minority corners to itself a disproportionate amount of the world's goods while the majority is left without what they need.
Above all, living this kind of life are dangerous because they can create the prevailing creed of the society in which we live. They believe that undiluted happiness comes with winning millions in the lottery. They believe that the ownership of what they have acquired is absolute. But there is no absolute ownership of anything.
When we think of temptations, we tend to think of sexual sins, telling lies, losing our tempers, gossiping about people's real or imagined faults, getting angry, feeling resentment and the like.
But the really dangerous temptations are:
- to want material wealth for its own sake (the ability to turn anything into money ['bread']),
- to want status (everyone looking up to me),
- and power (manipulating people and things for my own ends), things which are seen as going with wealth, power and status.
Three key areas - Rather than just seeing them as three consecutive temptations happening almost simultaneously at a particular moment, we should perhaps see them as three key areas where Jesus was tempted to compromise his mission during the whole of his public life. They were not just passing temptations of the moment, but temptations with which he was beset all throughout his public life.
Some real examples of these temptations can be found in the Gospel accounts:
- The Pharisees asked Jesus "to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him" (Mark 8:11).
- "Save yourself if you are God's Son! Come down from the cross!" (Matthew 27:40).
- After feeding 5,000 hungry people with an abundance of food, "the people there said, 'Surely this is the Prophet who was to come into the world!' Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself" (John 6:14-15).
Clearly, in varying forms, these temptations of Jesus can come into our lives too. They are certainly coming. What will my response be to them?