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First Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2010

Blessed “little Easter”!

Father, through our observance of Lent,
help us to understand the meaning
of Your Son’s death and resurrection,
and teach us to reflect it in our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for the First Sunday of Lent)

Deuteronomy 26:4-10 (bring God the first fruits of your harvest
to acknowledge what He’s done for you)
Psalm 91 (Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble)
Romans 10:8-13 (faith in Jesus leads to salvation)
+Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness)

Who has the right to tell you who you are?

The man who brought the firstfruits of his crops to the temple might be inclined to define himself as a hard-working, successful farmer who’s even generous enough to share his harvest with the Lord. What a guy!

God, knowing this inclination, gives him a script. Rather, he is to identify himself as the son of a wandering Aramean, an alien and a slave whom God delivered with great power. He is only returning to the Lord a small portion of the bounty that the Lord has first given to him. His merriment is an expression of his gratitude for dependence on so powerful and so generous a God, not an expression of independent pride.

This sets our grounds for celebration (this is, after all, a day of celebration!) on firm footing. If we’re dependent on ourselves, if our identity is self-made, then we’re always insecure. We’re limited. We make mistakes. We get sick. We fail. God is unlimited. He never make mistakes, never gets sick, never fails. If our dependence is on God, then we’re secure. That’s what He wants for us. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

St. Paul, too, gives us a script to set our identity firmly on our dependence on God. Our salvation comes from confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord (declaring that we’re dependent on Him) and in believing that God raised Him from the dead (that He’s worthy of that dependence).

Finally, Jesus models this dependence for us in the wilderness, showing us its power under fire. When the devil tried three times to define Jesus’ identity according to diabolical terms, Jesus (God incarnate!) didn’t rely on Himself. He, too, used a divine script, quoting Sacred Scripture.

“If You are the Son of God, command this stone to turn into bread.” (Luke 4:3). Here the devil tempts Jesus to depend on Himself, on His own power to supply His needs, rather than relying on His Father in Heaven. This is the first level of temptation we face–to rely on ourselves to meet our natural needs and desires. That’s the way the devil thinks: “I will not serve” (Jeremiah 2:20)…anyone except himself, that is…

Jesus doesn’t think that way. “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone shall man live’” (Luke 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). If God wanted Him to have bread, He would have bread (and, indeed, when the temptation was over, angels came and ministered to Him, see Matthew 4:11). Bread is good, but God has something better for Him right now. He prefers God.

Then the devil took Him up higher. If we manage to head off the temptations of pride and natural desires, our temptations go up a notch–they become more subtle. If Jesus won’t depend on Himself, maybe He will rely on someone else–someone who makes Him a good enough offer. “I will give You all this power and the glory of these kingdoms…Prostrate yourself in homage before me and it shall all be Yours” (Luke 4:6-7).

Jesus doesn’t think like that either. “Scripture has it, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; Him alone shall you adore’” (Luke 4:8, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13). He’s dependent on God, and that’s that.

The devil has one last trick up his sleeve. If Jesus is so determined to depend on God, the devil can use that (he uses it on us too!). He can even twist the script. He takes Jesus higher still, to the pinnacle of the temple (which was itself built on a mountain), challenging Jesus to prove His identity by throwing Himself down, depending on God to save Him, “for Scripture has it, ‘He will bid His angels watch over you’ and again, ‘With their hands they will support you, that you may never stumble on a stone’” (Luke 4:10-11, quoting Psalm 91:11 & 12).

Fortunately, Jesus hasn’t just memorized the script (yet another strike against lip service!). He’s taken it to Heart, and knows a distortion when He sees one: “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). He won’t turn dependence into manipulation.

Our identity is under attack. We’re tempted to define ourselves, to let others define us, or even to be defined by a religious veneer, but only God knows us well enough to truly define us. Only in heart-felt dependence on Him will we conquer temptation and flourish.

“Say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’” -Psalm 91:2

That’s our identity. That’s ground for celebration!

Yours in merry dependence (a work in progress!),

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