Our faith in Jesus will be put to the test
Sunday Homily for March 1, 2009
First Sunday in Lent (L1B)
By Fr. Rich Lifrak, SSCC
Why oh why was Jesus driven into the desert by the spirit of God to be tempted by Satan, the devil himself? And what did Jesus actually accomplish by resisting the temptations that Satan threw at him?
Mary Mathers, a young mother of two boys, sometimes had such questions about this particular Gospel passage, but much more often her questions tended to be more concrete and emotional, such as “How can I control my sons when they are acting like little beasts.” or “Am I going to go insane?” or “Being so angry, will I do something to these little kids that I’ll really regret?”
Such questions hounded her, especially during one particularly difficult afternoon, when Mary was trying to clean her house in preparation for a meeting of her Catholic women’s group, while her sons were home from school. She started by setting them up in the next room with some of their favorite toys. After ten minutes, she heard some whispered giggles coming from the next room that she knew were not normal. So she stepped into the doorway leading to the next room to take a look and gasped at what she saw. The entire room-carpet, couch, coffee table, every single surface, glittered like a fourth of July sparkler. Her four year old son Tyler, with a big smile, was holding onto a giant-sized empty jar of silver glitter, and her two year old was dancing happily in circles.
Mary thought of giving each one a swat on the behind, but she knew from previous experience that that wouldn’t work. They would scream for hours right in front of the women guests who were coming. So she gently and courteously informed them that she was very busy cleaning and suggested that they go to another room.
She got to work again, but soon heard a suspicious silence, so she went to take a look once again. She saw at first glance an empty family-size can of comet cleanser that she had thought was securely locked up. Apparently not.
The boys were shrieking: “Look, Mommy! I’m helping.” and were pointing around them. The floor and every book, plant, knickknack and piece of furniture were covered with a fine layer of bluish-white grit. This time, her face red with anger and a grim look on here face, she just pointed outside, ordering them to leave the house and stay in the back yard. After an hour more, she thought she was almost done cleaning.
But upon entering the master bedroom, she saw a large, black spot in the middle of the pure white carpet. Horrified she screamed, “No! No! No!” She felt an irresistible urge to go tan the behinds of her two young boys, but something or someone stopped her. Was it Jesus, whose name she was voicing under every breath to relieve her stress?
Mary started by calling every cleaning service in town for advice, but they told her that any cleaning process would be hopeless. They suggested that she cover the stained part of the carpet with something else. Mary just couldn’t accept that, and so she sat quietly for a few minutes, praying Jesus’ name.
Then she got to work with a basin of water and a washcloth. Soaking, rinsing, soaking, rinsing, she repeated the process over and over, while tears of sadness spilled down her cheeks. Then she felt them, the chubby little hands of her children, patting her on the back. “
We’re sorry, mommy.” they said. Then they went to get more water and soap to help her. And then it happened. Slowly, but surely, as they all worked together to soak and rinse the black stain over and over again, the stain which should have been permanent disappeared.
A miracle had happened. Not so much the miracle of the rug becoming clean and white. The greater miracle was the change in her heart and in the hearts of her children. The stain of sin, resentment, and rebellion had been removed, and was replaced by a pure, loving, and innocent spirit in each one of them, making true love and harmony possible, a blessing.
The season of Lent teaches us that our lives and the life of Jesus are not so very different and certainly not separate, including Jesus’ journey to the desert to be with Satan, the beasts, and the angels. Satan is not just the opponent of God. He is anything and anyone that tempts us to say “no” or ignore God’s ways, fomenting rebellion, half-truths, outright lies, aggression, and violence.
What in our lives is connected to Satan? Could it be our exaggerated ambitions, our attachment to comfort, our pride, our supposedly small vices, our rages and resentments, our stubborn resistance to the authority and transcendence of God. Often, we don’t see how Satan has infiltrated our consciousness and spirit, that is, unless we enter the desert where our weaknesses and our temptations are exposed. T
he desert that the Bible talks about is not so much a place defined by climate and geography, but by physical and emotional vulnerability, weakness, an absolute need for prayer, and finally purification, the gift of God’s grace.
Since the purpose of Lent is to follow Jesus into the desert, a desert of the heart and spirit, we can find this desert right where we are, in the midst of hardship and struggle. The desert is the place where only Jesus can save us, because no matter what is troubling or depriving us, Jesus has already conquered that darkness, that stain of sin that could make us fall and will make us fall, if we rely only on our own strength and power.
So you see now why Jesus had to go into the desert, driven by the Spirit. And perhaps, you can also see now that, through faith, the story of Jesus has become and continues to become part of our story, just as it became part of the story of Mary and her two little boys, as they struggled against each other’s will and sinfulness, yet still found God. We can have faith then, that Satan can and will be subdued, even in the most difficult cases, and that even beasts can turn out to be like angels, serving the Lord.
God has made a covenant with us, the sign of the rainbow, that he showed to Noah to make it clear that no matter what happened in the future, God would be seeking not to destroy us, only to save us. May we follow Jesus into the places, both inside and outside, that would ordinarily frighten or repel us. And may we trust that, because of Jesus’ presence and our close linkage to him, we shall overcome, meaning that salvation, inner freedom, and peace will be more a part of our lives than ever before.
Yes, my friends, in this time of Lent, our faith in Jesus will be put to the test and still be found sufficient to bring us safely home to him, who is our redeemer and closest friend. Honor and glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ!