Sunday 9 March 2014

1st Sunday in Lent - Br Simeon EFO

St- Andre-Rublev's Saviour

    Holy Redeemer

In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order

Homily preached at Winmalee:

 by Brother Simeon  Sunday 9th March 2014
First Sunday in Lent

Gospel Mt 4: 1-11

“ Overcoming Temptation”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

My topic today is "Overcoming Temptation." We are drawing upon the experience of Jesus, our supreme example. The story is told in Matthew 4:1-11.

The customary title for this Gospel passage Is “The Temptation of Jesus”. A better title would  be the “Testing of God’s Son”.  The concern of the passage is an exercise to test what Jesus  is made of– is he up to the task ahead of him – does he have the fortitude and strength to  undergo the hardship– is he up to the challenge – is he the right man for the job?

The implication here is the devil is working for God. Could this be true?  Does this go against the commonly held belief that the devil is an independent adversary who is diametrically  opposed to God?

This is the story of the encounter of Jesus with Satan. Satan attempted to get Jesus to put his own needs and potential concerns above the will of His Father. He wanted Jesus to act independently of the Father. He wanted Jesus to sacrifice His secure future for the present. Jesus met Satan's challenge by trusting His Father to do all things in His time, in His way, and with His result!
Very often, we are concerned supremely about the present. We are tempted to sacrifice our principles for a short-term gain.  Instead of giving in, we can follow the example of Jesus in overcoming temptation through trust in God.
He was a young man and was ready to embark on His public ministry. Satan sought to destroy His ministry. Satan often tempts people when they are beginning to do something for God. He tries to derail God's servants before they can accomplish His purpose.

Satan relentlessly tempts us throughout our lives, under different circumstances, and in a variety of ways.
We are not greater than our Master. As the Spirit leads us, we too will be tested so sorely, that at times we will wonder if we have correctly discerned the will of God. It will help us to see what Jesus said and did under these circumstances.
In the OT,however, testing refers to the process by which the covenant partner is scrutinised to determine his fidelity to God.  The most well known story  is that of Job. We initially hear that God is bragging about his servant Job and so Satan,the tempter or the tester, says to God that  Job is only faithful because he has  been blessed with good fortune.  The evil one says that Job  would surely  change his tune if things weren’t going so well.

So Satan asks God’s  permission to inflict suffering upon Job in a effort to make Job curse God. Reluctantly, God agrees to this request and the devil is given almost free reign to systematically destroy Job and his family.  In the end, Job never wavers and remains faithful to God.  Job passes the test and health and prosperity is returned to him.

Before Satan was given the task of testing people, God was the one who put people to the test. An early example of this was God testing Abraham to kill his son Isaac, or God testing the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years after they were liberated from Egypt.  In essence, God was testing these people to see if they  were worthy.

So why would we be surprised if Jesus had to under go some testing to see if he was fit enough to be the Son of God?  And that is exactly what we are told happened.  The Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to the testing site.  But  Jesus had an extra challenge.  He had to fast for forty days and forty  nights before his testing began. It was common in that period and tradition for people to fast that long.

We also understand that all of us are tempted to do a wide range of things, sometimes we give in and sometimes we don’t.  Our society scoffs at temptation.  Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist anything but temptation” and "the easiest way to get rid  of temptation is to yield to it."

Temptation looks good.  It is pleasant.  It is very attractive.  We often trivialise

temptation because we believe ourselves self-sufficient. We think of temptation as the  acceptance of evil when it is far more often the rejection of courageous good.  We are so used to choosing what is easiest that becoming what God wants us to be doesn't even seem like an option.  Yet, we understand that only by facing temptation can we know of our ability to triumph over it.

The first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is often understood as challenging Jesus to misuse his miraculous power to satisfy his own hunger because he doubts God's provision.

The second temptation is a spectacular use of spiritual power.  Jesus  is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told to throw himself down because God would send angels to rescue him.  Turning from the physical needs of hunger to the spiritual realm, Satan uses this profound temptation to see if Jesus will use the divine shield  to maintain his own safety.

 Will  Jesus seek to avoid all pain, suffering and hardship?  When ever there is trouble will he call on Daddy to save him?  Will Jesus adopt the attitude that he is invincible?  That he can do fool hardy things throughout his life and not have to worry about the consequences of his actions:?  Jesus rejects this enticement .He chooses the harder road and we know where that journey will take him on Good Friday.

The third temptation is the one that still plagues most leaders in our world today. Political power–control of vast territories,empires and resources.  To be the most powerful leader in the world.

First century Jews were expecting a Messiah to be an earthly king, a strong military conquer or who would defeat the Romans and regain all of Israel’s ancestral homeland. A mighty warrior who would lay waste to Israel’s enemies and  rule the entire world bringing peace and prosperity to God's chosen people.

Jesus could have had all of this –fame,riches,power. He could have been the Messiah people wanted him to be.  All he had to do was bow down and
worship Satan.  I find it amazing that  we still use this language in our society today.  We often  describe people who seem to have it all as “selling their souls to the devil” in order to achieve their level of success.  The temptation is real.

Jesus passed the tests.   With all the energy he could muster, he emphatically cried out, “ Away from me Satan I will serve God alone.”

We too are plagued with similar tests.  For the most part we can avoid the temptations that would take us down an illegal or immoral path, it is the temptations that deal with positive things that cause us the most struggle.  Whether it is looking out for our personal needs, seeking an easy safe path or dreaming of wealth, position and status, we face the same struggles Jesus did.

Will we invoke God’s authority and power to achieve our own goals and desires?  Will we put God to the test?  Will we sell our soul to the evil one in order to achieve worldly profit? Or will we like Jesus, choose to put our trust in God alone and seek to serve God in all things?

Temptations are a fact of life.  Each personal experience of being challenged
by tests calls forth a profound inner experience that requires a faith response.
Isn’t our real prayer to not succumb to those temptations which will certainly come our way?

During this time of Lent, we are called to take stock of those temptations that we all encounter.  We have the opportunity to prayerfully consider what we are being offered and to ask God for direction. Will we choose immediate gratification in the things we crave?  Or will we be patient and trust that God will strengthen us for the journey and lead us on the path that is true?

My hope and prayer for each of us this Lent,is this:  That the Holy Spirit will lead us to that place where we need to be tested.  And once there, that God will give us the  strength and will to choose wisely so that we too will pass the test.