Sunday March 4, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Sunday of Lent
Reading I ( Deuteronomy 26:4-10) Reading II (Romans 10:8-13)
Gospel (Luke 4:1-13)
In todayís Gospel, we see the three areas of temptation that have traditionally been laid out for us: The world, the flesh and the devil. We see, at the very end of the Gospel reading, the part about the world, where the devil takes Jesus up and puts him at the parapet of the temple (the highest pinnacle of the temple) right underneath where all the people would have been standing in a large courtyard as they came into the temple. He says, "Throw yourself down from here." Well, the Lord would only do that if he wanted to be noticed. It would be showboating, basically. Everybody would have been able to see that he was the Messiah, that God was protecting him, that he could throw himself down from the parapet of the temple, and he could just float ever so gracefully to the earth. Everybody would "ooh" and "aah". They would notice how wonderful he was. He said, "No, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test." So, he took what the devil wanted to present in a worldly way and said, no, weíre not to look to the world, weíre to look to God. Prior to that, the devil had shown him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. Itís very interesting to know what the devil said about that, by the way. "All of this has been given over to me, for me to give to whomever I wish." Notice that Jesus didnít say, "Satan it was not given over to you, quit lying." No, he didnít challenge him on it. The fact is true, it has all been handed over to the devil. So when you see the corruption in the world today, particularly governmental corruption, should there be any question as to why? The power has been handed over to Satan and he can give it to whomever he wills. So donít be surprised by it. All we need to do is to focus on the Lord and pray. The devil says, "This is yours if you bow down and worship me." He offers us the same basic thing. What is it that you want? Do you want power? Do you want money? Do you want prestige? Do you want a name? What is it that you want? All you need to do is recognize Satan and he will give you whatever you want. The only thing he cannot offer you is salvation. But anything, as far as the world goes, itís in his power. He can offer it to you if he wants. That is why we have to be so very careful. As the Lord says, you shall worship God alone. We see that giving in to all of these things is, ultimately, worship of the devil. Itís made very clear in Scripture. Saint Paul even talks about it. He talks about all these things as idol worship. Even though weíre not literally bowing down and worshipping things, in essence we are giving our hearts to it. Thatís where the worship of this stuff comes in. Thatís where we wander away from God and we look to the things of the world instead.
Then we have the flesh. After 40 days of not eating, the devil says, "Just turn this stone into a piece of bread." Jesus says, "No, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." This is something very important for us to recognize, especially living in a society where things are very easy, where things of the flesh are easy to come by to find comfort. Itís very easy when weíre not comfortable to begin to whine, to complain, to be concerned about ourselves, to fall into self-pity, to get focused on the self, to look for ease and comfort and whatever we can find. Itís easy to turn our focus away from God, away from the Word of God which tells us very clearly itís not going to be easy and comfortable if weíre going to be following the path of Jesus. So the flesh, as weak as it is, is exceedingly powerful when it comes to our weak wills. All the flesh has to do is complain. Iím hungry, feed me. Iím not comfortable, Iím too cold, Iím too hot. This chair is very uncomfortable, find a cushy one. That bath waterís not quite hot enough, fill it up some more. I want a longer shower. Whatever it is, all it has to do is just complain a little tiny bit and the will acquiesces and falls flat on its face and we give in to whatever the flesh wants.
So you see where the problems come from. The devil doesnít have to stand in front of us and say, "Worship me", because weíve got the weakness of the flesh. If we can overcome that, then we have the world handing it all to us. And if we can finally overcome that, then the devilís going to stand before us and tempt us directly. Heís very shrewd. He doesnít need to be right in our face. We would like to be able to think that if the devil were right there standing before us weíd be able to say, "No Iím not going to fall for you." But notice how shrewd he is. He presents it in a way that looks good. He even quotes Sacred Scripture to try and confuse. Notice that the devil doesnít present himself as this hideous, fire-breathing creature who wants to tear you and drag you down to hell with him. Instead, he presents himself in a friendly manner. "Iíll give you all the kingdoms of the world, just turn the stone into bread. It will take your hunger away. Toss yourself down and make a spectacle of yourself. Everyone will notice you. Wouldnít that be impressive? Everybody will think that youíre a great one." Do you see how he presents it? He didnít stand in front of Jesus and growl at him and make himself look like an enemy. He made himself look like a friend. Donít think that heís going to do it any differently when it comes to us. Heís very shrewd. The most subtle of all the creatures God created is what the book of Genesis says. Which means: the most intelligent of all. Heís not so stupid as to stand in front of us and present just pure unadulterated evil. Instead, he presents evil in the guise of good.
God, on the other hand, presents to us the way that we need to do things. First of all, I think that very first reading is very apropo for those of us who are American because itís talking about taking the first fruits of coming into the new country of Israel and presenting them to the Lord. The people are to say, "My father was a wandering Aramean." Who of us, unless we are American Indians can say anything different? Some of us have ancestors who came here to escape persecution. Some of us have ancestors who came here looking for a better life. Some of us have ancestors who came fleeing various struggles and difficulties. Whatever it is, none of us can say that our ancestors were so stable and so secure in the place where they were, that they just stayed put. All of us, except those who are American Indians, would have to say, "My forefathers were wandering Arameans." They came to this country seeking something better than what they had. They came to a land indeed flowing with milk and honey. We can reap the first fruits, but we need to remember that it belongs to God. Itís the temptation of the world and itís the temptation of the flesh: bring all of this stuff and pile it into my house and make my life better. God required that the Israelites took the first fruits, which would be the finest and the best. In case there would be a storm or something that would destroy all the other fruits, the first fruits had already been given to God. It is purely an act of faith, but it is a reminder that they had escaped slavery. It is a reminder that they had escaped a land that was difficult and where life was not easy. They had come to a place where there were already cities and towns built, where other people had planted the vines and the groves, where they were able to take the fruit of other peopleís handiwork and they were able to reap the benefits. But they were to remember that it was all a gift from God. Have we forgotten in a short span of 200 years that we are no different? That this is our lot in life? Perhaps it is important for us to look at that reading and apply it to ourselves. Not to think what happened 3000 or 3500 years ago to the people of Israel, but just look back. For some of you, you only have to look back a generation. Maybe for some itís 100 years, for some 200 years, but for most of us it certainly isnít very long. We need to remember that our ancestors came here poor. We need to remember that they were wandering people looking for a better place. God, in His mercy, brought them to this land. He has provided for us in a way that no other society in the world can say. We must be very careful to keep our focus on God, not on things, and not on the self. In humility, we must be able to recognize the reality of the situation. My father was a wandering Aramean. Keep that always in mind. We must keep our focus on God.
Thatís where the church leads us with the second reading. Saint Paul tells us that whoever confesses on the lips that Jesus is Lord and believes in the heart will be saved and will be justified. Heís not saying itís just as easy as saying, "Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus" and thatís all it requires. Heís making a different point. Heís making a point that all are one, which points to us in a very specific way as Americans. Look around the church and you will see people with various colors of skin. There is no difference in the body of Christ. There is no Jew or Greek. There is no male or female. There is no slave or free. All are one in Christ - every single person, whether you were Jewish and were part of the people of God, or whether you were a Gentile and cut off from the people of God. Now we are brought together, and anyone, Jew or Gentile, who is willing to stand up and say that they believe in Jesus Christ and profess it on their lips and believe it in their hearts, they have salvation offered to them. It is no different for the Gentile than it is for the Jew. Thatís the point St. Paul is making. He doesnít say all you have to do is say, "Jesus is Lord" and youíre going to Heaven. Instead, heís making the point that God no longer makes the distinction between Jew and Greek, between anything else. All are one in Jesus Christ. How important it is for us to realize that. I cannot save myself. All the material things in the world cannot save my soul. Only Jesus Christ can do that.
So as we look at what the devil presents to us, how easy it is to get caught in the flesh. How easy it is to get caught in the world. What we need to do is make sure that we keep our focus on the Lord, not on the things that surround us, not even on the self. But on Him. Even if we remember that our forefathers came to this land as wandering people, as refugees and exiles and whatever else they might have been, we can still say, "Look at what we have been able to do." Yet, all of us are exiles from our homeland, which is Heaven. None of us is able to get there on our own. We must recognize that. We must be able to acknowledge in our hearts and on our lips our need for and our dependence on Jesus Christ. We, therefore, are able to say to the devil, "I will live on the Word that comes from the mouth of God." The only word that comes from the mouth of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, who came into this world. If we want to look at the world, look at the One who came into the world. If we want to look at the flesh, look at the One who became flesh. If we want to look at the devil, look at his head crushed under the heel of Our Lord and Our Lady. Stand triumphant over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Profess your faith on your lips, believe it in your heart and live it. The faith in Jesus Christ that leads to salvation. The faith on the lips that leads to justification, so we overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and salvation in Jesus Christ will be ours.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.