Homily for the First Sunday of Lent – February 26, 2012 by Father Stephen
Epistle 2 Cor. 6:1-10.
Gospel St. Mt. 4:1-11.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent.
In the Holy Gospel Christ is being shown to be tempted by the devil, indicating that our earthly life is the arena where good and evil are in a mortal combat. Who of us can doubt that life is a struggle, a constant battle for survival? We speak here of our spiritual state. The stakes are higher than we think. With this first Sunday of Lent the Church reminds us that we must be alert and ready, for, whether we are aware of it or not, evil is at work 24/7 to bring us down. Ever since the beginning of creation the force of evil is restless and is relentlessly warring against good, God and man. Our first parents allowed themselves to be deceived by it’s lies and fell out of Grace, out of God’s favor. Christ, however, came to bring us back into God’s life of Grace and offers us the means and the knowledge of how to overcome evil and win back the Grace for Eternal Life. St Paul urges us not to fall asleep and not to be deceived, each moment is our constant now, our time for salvation. He warns us not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain, as our first parents had had taken it for granted. Now with weakened will and with the sting of sin in our fallen nature we must sustain a constant fight to regain direction and move to life, Life that lasts, Life which they were given free. We, however, must fight to regain it and to preserve it. Grace can be ours to attain Eternal Life.
The Gospel is our Good News, in which Christ our warrior Savior shows us the way to victory and triumph. Because Christ is Our Savior and Guide, God wanted to give us the model His Son’s example to show us how to win, how to overcome evil as we are tempted and tried every single day of our lives.
The Bible says: Jesus was driven by the Spirit of God into the desert for one purpose, in order to be tested, tempted by the cunning force of Satan’s power. It was God’s will that Jesus Christ, our Savior, Guide and Model, be tempted, since no man would be exempt from battling evil. Jesus Christ is our model and guide to show us how to win and how not to be overcome. Evil can tempt us but nothing and no one has the power to make us offend God, to make us sin.
The devil wins most often by choosing the occasions, when we are weak, distracted and not being watchful. Our Lord warned us never to slacken or slumber but be always watching by prayer. Stop praying, stop being alert, and we lose. We fall into temptation, when we least expect it. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. He ate nothing and he too felt the human weakness by hunger. Then the devil came to test Him and find out for himself Who this man was, the mystery of Christ. The devil’s eyes were not allowed to know the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, being conceived without sin. It irritated him that one woman was promised to win over him, and would escape by God’s power satan’s traps. Mary conceived by the power of God and the devil was blinded. Ever since he felt curious and irritated. Now he thought it was his chance. Jesus was down, he thought, by hunger. He came and broke in on Him: If you are the Son of God, Creator of matter out of nothing, change these stones into bread. At the depth of this temptation was Jesus’ own awareness of his human weakness by hunger. But Jesus’ soul constantly beholds God and in God knew all things. No human weakness by hunger would distract Him, nor make him defensive, nor proud. He did not need to defend his humanity, nor to prove his human greatness. He is the Word of God, the source of all life, power and nourishment. He did not need to defend his identity by showing miraculous powers or changing stone into bread. His being was not sustained by food but remains the life-offering source and power that nourishes and sustains everything in its being, including the fallen angel, the very being of Satan, whom God once created as good.
For Satan not to hide that he was a mere creature and that his pride is an empty lie, Jesus reminds Satan of the eternal truth which is Christ’s being, the Word of God incarnate, who comes forth from the mouth of God, the Truth of God, now made visible in the created order as well in his human form. Not by bread alone does man live but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. This truth is made available to all men reading the Holy Bible, the book of life. By Jesus’ pointing to this truth, all men and angels are reminded of what matters, what is the source, the Bread of Life, the Word of God, Himself. Jesus did not need to say I am the Word of God, but referred Satan not to hide what matters to man, the Word of God, that sustains life. Jesus is the bread, the real bread, how foolish a try for the devil to tempt, to try to distract Jesus from the truth. Jesus voluntarily became and stayed for while to be in the prison of being limited as in his human body. His life did not depend on human bread, though He chose at will to depend on it for our sake, but he did not need to do so. HE was free to go either way. His divinity is his source of being even while for our sake it was veiled. At the transfiguration His divinity was unveiled.
Jesus did not need to defend his humanity. He acknowledged what matters, God’s glory, the Word of God, who gives light, direction and sustenance to man. Satan’s pride was being shaken. He learned his first humiliation. He failed in his attempt to draw Jesus away from himself. Both as God and as man he accepted this humiliation, but it failed to turn him against Truth, against himself. Proud and brilliant as the chief of all angels, Satan was, he failed, and makes another move, coming closer to trap the Son of Man. Now he begins to test and to question Jesus if he really reigned over all angels. He took Christ to the top of the temple and tempted him by the very Word of God, for the Word of God says in the Bible that “Angels would hold Thee up, so as not to strike Thy foot against a stone.” Clever, but without due respect. For Christ is served by all angels. He did not need to prove that to Himself as a man, nor as God. Nor did he need to boast of it.
Satan’s trap was an insult. Jesus not seeking His glory as man with divine powers and prerogatives, reminds Satan of his insult to God residing in Christ. Jesus did not need to defend his honor but came to lead man to worship God, for to worship God has the power to lift man out of his bondage to all evil including Satan. Again Jesus shows us to worship God, for the Word of God says, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Thy God. Jesus did not have to say I am the Lord Thy God. Satan was humiliated for failing to fell Jesus. Satan begins to see that he is powerless in facing the word of God in Christ, once more he failed to trip Jesus. Now he was desperate. He saw himself defeated for the second time by the mere Words of God. His assault was clearly uncovered. Now he has nothing left but pride and rebellion. He by his arrogance, no longer veiled, wants Christ to bow down and worship Him. By using the power of the Word of God Jesus commands the chief fallen angel: “Begone Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”
Jesus did not need to defend himself against the evil one with any clever human argument. The revealed divine Word of God always defended Him. This is our lesson. God’s Word in our thought, words, on our lips and in our hearts and in our deeds is our defense. When we are weak, hungry or distracted, God’s Word is our nourishment, Life and power, from Whom evil flees.
The devil left Jesus for the time being. Then angels came to serve on Him. Jesus is the bread of Angels and the real food for men of Faith. Let us love Him in the Eucharist and in every Sacrament. Jesus is our strength, our power hidden in the Most Holy and Blessed Sacrament.
What love God has shown us to remain with us even on earth! Yet, each time we bring a gift of sacrifice to Him with a pure heart, we become richer and we are being nourished by Him. The gift we give is what remains ours as an eternal possession. What we hold back is what we lose. Seeking God’s face will find life for our soul.
May the Blessed Trinity reside in our soul always.
Let Mary guide and keep us close to Jesus, Our Savior, Our Lord, Our God. Amen.+