The target for the next forty days is ourselves
Sunday Homily for March 1, 2009
First Sunday in Lent (L1B)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
If this brief Gospel had a title, it would be "The First Gunfight at the OK Corral." Lent is the time to take risks. The monk said the only factor preventing us from receiving the next great gift from God is letting go of the last one. The song, The Rose, tells us, "It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live."
The poet pictures the temptations, Philip Yancey says, as a get acquainted meeting between Jesus and Satan. The meeting took the form of an exam. And though Satan chose the questions, it was he who flunked it. Yancey calls this the showdown in the desert. Tradition says the temptation mountain is situated twenty miles from Jerusalem. It is situated in a desert so nasty that it is called Devastation.
It was fitting that Jesus spent this time on a mountain. In prose and poetry, mountains are the most likely place for one to find God. Think of Mount Sinai, the Mountain of the Beatitudes, Mount Tabor, and the Mount of Olives.
It was Felliniesque that the mountain be situated in a desert. In literature and films, the desert is "the devil's own playground." Remember the United State's most infamous killer Charles Manson lived in a desert.
For centuries, sculptors and painters have been mesmerized by this meeting between God and Satan. For them it represented a study in ultimate polarization.
European and US cathedrals wear frescoes and reliefs depicting this encounter. Major artists have cut their teeth on the three temptations.
One will not find this bleak mountain featured in the travel section of The New York Times. You would not choose to holiday there even were it a freebie. In a small cave dotting its face, the Teacher spent six weeks in dead winter. This was long before flu shots and one-a-day mega-vitamins. Thus you correctly get the impression that Jesus had to be one tough hombre to survive.
His only companions for forty days would be the wild beasts prowling about for their meals. Overhead He would see eagles circling and looking for a fast food supper using their dive bombing skills. Off in the distance, He could pick off the Jordan River moving like a silver eel to the sea. The only human life out in the desert He would see would be the Jesse James bad guys looking for a big payday.
On this mountain would take place the summit of all summits - the dialogue between our Master and Satan. Their rendezvous would make a meeting between world leaders look like a schoolyard fight between kindergarten kids. This is the most famous meeting between two individuals ever.
Few believe in Satan. But, though you can't see the wind blow, you can feel and see its effects. Though you can't see death, you see its results. It is the same with Satan. Goethe's Faust says, "People do not know the devil is there even when he has them by the throat." Baudelaire writes Evil's shrewdest trick is to convince us it does not exist. Christ took Satan seriously and handled him with kid gloves. The premier psychiatrist Doctor Carl Jung called him the Trickster, prince of lies and deception.
Satan is a Hebrew word. In Greek, he becomes diabolos and so our devil. Literally he is the enemy. Who of us has not met the enemy at some point along the road? If negative, be patient. He will come knocking on your door or come barging right in. The devil is notoriously rude.
Christ's temptations were three - turning stones into bread, a leap from the temple, and the offer of the world's kingdom. These temptations would come only to a person who was aware he possessed extraordinary gifts.
Who of us believes we could leap from a high rooftop and survive? We know well our friends would pick us up with a blotter. Jesus felt He could make such a jump and still make it to work next morning. He was aware He could turn His powers on or off at will. In the desert, He had to decide how He would direct His gifts. Would He employ them for His own kicks or the Father's glory? We know the answer to that question.
This Gospel gives each of us much to reflect on as a new Lent begins. Hopefully it will open for all with the attention grabbing noise of a rock concert.
"Repent.", says Christ. The target for the next forty days is ourselves. May each of us score a bull's eye. Take risks.
We are heading out to the OK Corral - perhaps for the last time.