FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (2022)
Psalms 91:1-2, 10-15
The actual “forty days” of Lent does not begin to be tallied until Monday of this week, so anything you have given up or promised to do since ashes were placed on your head can be considered extra (i.e., suitable for ‘trading in’ in a needy or appropriate moment). The Lenten season was viewed as an imitation of the forty days that Jesus fasted in the dessert, in today’s gospel a “forty days” that was interrupted by the temptation of the devil. Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday lasts 44 days, but if you take those 44 days, subtract six Sundays (not considered Lent, and thus are appropriate days to eat that chocolate you gave up) which gives us 38, and when we add Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we arrive at the requisite forty days.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just come from His baptism, and many see the temptation of Christ (which is recounted in all three Synoptic gospels), as the prelude to the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry. It is good to take comfort in the full humanity of Jesus, and see Him as one like us, even to the point of enduring temptation, but theologian George Smiga suggests we do a disservice to the profundity of the temptation event when we see it as a “prelude or preparation for His ministry.” The temptation event, as described in all three synoptic gospels, is not a prelude to Jesus’ public ministry, it is a glimpse of what His entire ministry is all about – “Jesus came into this world to defeat evil, to oppose all that is against God’s will.” This overly familiar scene is less about individual temptations of Jesus, and more about a battle with evil, a battle which will rage throughout Jesus’ short ministry, a battle that then will be left at the feet of His apostles, and at the feet of His disciples far into the future.
When Jesus makes a cripple walk He is declaring that God has every intention of eliminating whatever cripples human life. When Jesus cures a person of blindness He is declaring God’s intention to eradicate every kind of blindness, the blindness that refuses to see the good in others, the blindness that chooses coercion over respect and dialogue. The battle that Jesus has with evil in today’s gospel, will be played out on the pages of all the gospels. We look forward at the end of this Lenten season to celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the inauguration of the ultimate defeat of that which is most evil, death. While Jesus’ death and resurrection strikes a crippling blow to evil, the devil continues to crawl through our world, spreading lies, and division, and discord. Not until Christ’s second coming will the triumph over evil be completed. Until then, our job is to take up Jesus’ mission, to fight with Him against the evil that surrounds us, to undermine the power of evil in our world. Our mission, is Christ’s mission.
I would like to close with George Smiga’s summary of all we have been saying, so well does he put it all together. “On the last day, we will be called before the Lord to give an accounting of our life. If we stand before Him and say, “You know, I said my prayers, and I tried to be as holy a person as I could be,” Jesus might say in reply: “Good. But did you contribute to the destruction of evil? Did you fight at my side against all that is opposed to God’s will? Did you attack injustice, or did you ignore it? Did you oppose racism, or did you tolerate it? Did you reject violence, or did you feed it?” It will be unfortunate for us, if that last day is the first time we realize that this is the work Jesus expects us to undertake.
Being a disciple of Jesus is taking up the battle against evil. It is more than avoiding sin. It is helping to create a new world. Following Christ is more than keeping ourselves pure. It is standing with Christ, facing the devil in the eye, and saying, “Your power stops with me.””