Monday, February 22, 2010

If You Are the Son of God....

1 Lent C #24

Dt 26, 4-10
Ps 91
Rom 10, 8-13
Lk 4, 1-13

February 21, 2010
St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

When we meet Jesus this morning, he hasn’t yet started out on his ministry. He didn’t know what it was to be! He knew he had a special relationship to the Father from his early youth. When he was twelve years old or so and Mary and Joseph found him in the Temple they asked him, “Why have you done this to us?” His answer: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

From early youth Jesus’ mind was clear, his will tended only to the right and good. As he came to full maturity, about age thirty, he knew the time had come. He went to his cousin John to be baptized in the River Jordan. Coming up from the water he saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove, and he heard a voice: “You are my beloved Son, on you my favor rests.”

Jesus knew then that he was on the right track leaving his mother and Joseph’s carpenter shop. But he still didn’t know just what he was supposed to do or how. That’s why he set out to the wilderness, to fast and to pray in the deep silence searching for clarity. Forty days: his Hebrews ancestors spent forty years in the desert seeking their way to the Promised Land; Moses fasted forty days before going up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. So Jesus would fast for forty days to find his path. And that is where we find him today, in the wilderness.

Wilderness, by the way, is more than desert. Anyone who has been to Arizona or New Mexico, or has seen Arizona Highways in the dentist’s office knows that the desert can be beautiful with cactus and flowering plants, truly a “land of enchantment.” That’s not the Judaean desert! The Judaean wilderness is something else, burnt, the very stones burnt black, hardly a shred of vegetation, and deep silence. The stones look oddly like loaves of bread. Here Satan comes to him, to divert him. The first temptation:

“If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread!”

We have often begged just that, all of us. Prove yourself, Jesus! Why should I believe you if you don’t do what I want? It’s the broader problem of evil. If God is all good and all knowing and all just and all powerful, why do the innocent suffer for want of bread,for life's necessities? The rains are coming in Haiti. The suffering has just begun for the survivors: earthquake, then floods, water-born disease, rampant typhoid, diarrhea. The children will die first.

The First Psalm tells us that the just will stand like tress planted by the water, they shall not be moved, and that the wicked will be blown away like chaff. That is not our experience, not yours, not mine. The wicked do very nicely in this world, all too nicely, and often at the expense of the just, the innocent, the worker and the poor. What are we to make of it? Jesus had the power to turn those stones into loaves of bread to feed the world’s poor and hungry and he was tempted to do so but he did not. He could hold back the rains in Haiti. If he does, will men then believe that he is the Son of God? No, not really. Not if they don’t want to. Not unless it is given to them to want to. He answers:

“Not by bread alone does man live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then a second temptation: the Devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms; the power has been given to me and I give it to anyone I choose.”

What is Satan saying here? That worldly power is his? He can give it to whomever he chooses? Satan is the Father of Lies, but when he claims to hold the powers of this world I tend to take him at his word. Obey legitimate authority rightly used. Yes, of course! We are to be good citizens. But when authority is illegitimate or when it is unjustly used to force people to do the wrong thing, to act against their conscience, to suppress workers’ rights for instance, to assist at abortions, we not only may but we must refuse. And when it comes to unjust wars…. What then? If in the past we had to teach barbarous people to obey civil authority for the sake of peace and the common good, in this day and age we have to teach them how to resist, for the sake of peace and the common good. Our first citizenship is the Kingdom of God. To God alone we owe ultimate obedience.

Jesus’ answer: “You must worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve!”

From the Temple parapet, Satan tempts Jesus a third time: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for Scripture says the angels will hold you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus’ answer: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

So, if not by dispelling the world’s hunger, if not by the power of government and the force of arms, if not by cheap tricks, how will Jesus set about his saving mission? By simply preaching repentance, that is a new heart and mind, and preaching the Kingdom of God; by doing good, forgiving and curing the sick one by one, and absorbing, not fighting against, but absorbing the hatred and anger this aroused in his own body. Finally, by forgiving on the Cross, he moved the centurion in charge of his execution to declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” 

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