Monday, March 10, 2014

Although the Sunday readings at Mass are generally on a three year cycle since the reforms of 1970 went into effect, nevertheless, on the 1st Sun. of Lent the Gospel is always St. Matthew’s account of the temptations of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11)
Biblical Scholars tell us that St. Matthew’s Gospel in general presents Jesus to us as the new Moses/Israel, giving us a new law and where the old Israel failed historically in its relations with God, Jesus, as the new Israel (people of God) reverses those failures.
So, e.g. as the Old Law begins with the Genesis accounts of creation, etc. St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the birth of Christ (not dealt with in St. Mark or St. John’s Gospels) and before He begins His public ministry he goes out into the desert as did the original Israelites, and not surprisingly the number 40 is used to describe the period of preparatory testing.
The crux is that three temptations are described and in the history of salvation these were the principal failures of God’s people in the Old Testament, i.e. they came into the Holy Land from the desert unacquainted with farming and had to learn from the people of the land (Canaanites) how to provide themselves with food to satisfy their hunger.  Unfortunately the Canaanites at that time thought that in addition to preparing the ground and planting the seed, it was then necessary to worship the fertility gods (principally Baal) in order to obtain a successful harvest.  We find repeatedly in the Old Testament that Israelites were found to be worshiping fertility gods in order to have success in filling their stomachs.  I think it important to note that it wasn’t so much that they denied the LORD as they thought they could worship both.  Note the commandment: there is only ONE God.  The error was in thinking they could have it both ways.  After 40 days, Jesus too was hungry, but He passed this test which they had so often failed. Of course we don’t have this problem, do we?  We never place material security before God in our everyday priorities.  We never try to have it both ways when it comes to priorities between God and material things – we who have to maneuver our lives through perhaps the most materialistically preoccupied culture ever.  Are we sure we also don’t have a problem here?
The early settlements of God’s people in the promised land saw them waiting for God’s Spirit to lead them in times of crises (e.g. Bk. of Judges).  Eventually, however, the people came to the prophet Samuel and demanded that he anoint for them a king – SO THAT THEY COULD BE LIKE THE OTHER NATIONS!  The prophet Samuel tried to warn them that they were heading in the wrong direction in demanding a human king rather than looking to God as their King. The history that followed is full of episodes of the kings being too much like those of the other nations and leading the people astray.  As the old adage goes: power corrupts.  Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth; Jesus passed this test as well.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to us either, does it?  Jesus our king comes to us as an exemplar of humility, so I guess we don’t have to worry about pride, reputation, a lust for power in its many forms – do we?  In our everyday lives do we swim with the current of the values around us? – just like the others?  Or do we let the Gospel be our guide?

Finally the third temptation of Jesus was Satan having Him on the parapet of the Temple and challenging Him to jump off, because as Psalm 90 would have it, the angels would protect Him.  Here lies the sin of presumption.  The Old Testament history of Israel was a series of presumptions.  They were so sure that they had the most powerful God looking after them, that time and again they turned a deaf ear to the prophets and failed to repent!  They knew that God loved them.  They presumed they would be forgiven their unrepented faults.  (E.g. they were shocked when Jerusalem was conquered).  Jesus did not take the bait.  Of course, we don’t have a problem here, do we?   We don’t have any unrepented faults.   We’re going to heaven because God loves us no matter what kind of persons  we are.  That seems to be the general understanding in our contemporary culture. Are we sure it isn’t presumption?

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