1st Sunday of Lent C 2019

Last week I marveled at how perfectly Jesus understood human nature.  This week we meet another character who understands it very well – the devil.  He knows what to do to make us succumb to his temptations.  The devil goes after Jesus likes he goes after the rest of us.  He attacks when Jesus is it at his weakest, when he has been fasting for forty days in the desert.  He is hungry, vulnerable and far away from anything or anyone who can help him.  But it is not just where and when the devil attacks, but how.  He tempts Jesus with those things we all desire – security, power and invulnerability.  Give the devil his due, he knows what we want.

After all, who after not having eaten for forty days would not want to point at a rock and turn it into bread?  If you were born to rule over the nations, who would not want to have them given rather than suffering such hate and pain to gain them?   If you faced the dangers and threats that Jesus knew were coming, why would you not want angels to rescue you?

Notice, Jesus does not say that he cannot do these things.  Stone could turn to bread and angels would gladly serve.  But there are no shortcuts with Jesus, no easy ways out.  For if he were to turn bread into stone, he would only serve himself.  If he were to accept kingship over the nations, his power would be power over, not power for others.  If angels rescued him as he fell from the Temple, he would never share in our sufferings.  Jesus chooses hunger over plenty, service over subjecting others and suffering over invulnerability.

My track record in rejecting such temptation is not as good.  When we are at our weakest, we all too often travel the road more travelled.   We grab what is in front of us in order to satisfy our needs regardless of the consequences.  We desire power so we can protect ourselves and manipulate people and things giving us the illusion of control we so endlessly seek.  We consider success to be far from pain and hurt, rather than honestly entering into it.  And our falling into temptations does indeed bring us temporary benefits and comfort.  But those benefits corrode us.  We ultimately find ourselves more isolated, more selfish, more lonely and grown a little colder.

And isn’t it something that when the Church fails, it fails in the same way we do?  This wonderful Church that does so much good, that stands up for so many, that serves like no other institution in the world; this church I love and have given my life for falls into temptation.  It falls when it chooses the easy way of silence and cover-up over the messiness of honesty and accountability.  It falls when it relies on power over others rather than the power of mercy.  It falls when it turns a deaf ear to the victim, the poor, the struggling and the excluded.  The Church falls when it seeks to preserve its status rather than absorbing its wounds and becoming an agent of healing for those whom it has wounded.

How do we get better?  How does the Church get better?  Well, we can only resist temptation the way Jesus resisted it.  It can only be overcome by choosing as Jesus chose and living as Jesus lives.  To resist evil and to proclaim the good news, we have to get down to the Jesus of it all and follow only him.

What would that look like for us and the Church?  It would mean not choosing the easiest or fastest way out, but instead walking only as fast as the most injured of our brothers and sisters. We must talk openly with those who feel ignored and listen carefully to those who have been silenced.  We must welcome all because it seems to me that the thing Jesus made easiest for everyone was to get to know him.  We must get to know him again.  That is getting down to the Jesus of it all.

We must reject the notion of power over others for Christ’s power was of service, love and mercy.  For “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Our idea of power must be stripped of everything else besides the power of Christ’s love and grace. That is getting down to the Jesus of it all.

We must not protect ourselves in a cocoon of invulnerability, but be led by those who have been hurt.  We must apologize in all humility and acknowledge and turn to those whom we have damaged.  For Jesus, there was no child too small that he would not bless, no woman too scorned that we he would not engage.  Indeed, those who should not have been around – sinners, a hemorrhaging woman, lepers, they all vied for Jesus’ attention and gained it.  For he said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  We must be the wounded healer.  That is getting down to the Jesus of it all.

This is the path that each of us must take.  This is the path the Church must take.  There is no other way.  And I promise you this will be the path our parish will take. We will only be of Jesus, for Jesus and with Jesus.  I can make that promise because that is where you have led me; what I have learned from you.  This Lent and for all time going forward, let’s get down to the Jesus of it all.  Let us be about nothing else.