Just a word… First Sunday in Lent…

Just a word… First Sunday in Lent… February 21, 2021

The Jews of ancient times viewed the desert not only as the dwelling place of wild beasts, but also as the place where they could make contact with Yahweh, where the Lord met his people. On this first Sunday in Lent, as on every other first Sunday in Lent, we hear that Jesus unsurprisingly went to the desert to fast and pray, and that he was tempted there. But this year, unlike the other evangelists, Mark does not give us the details of the three specific temptations of Jesus.

Perhaps it is good that Mark’s gospel omits the specifics, because it can remind us to be careful in applying too quickly the experience of Jesus’ wilderness to our experience of civilization. The ancient Judean desert is not modern day Fairfield, Ct. Satan tempted Jesus precisely as the singular Son of God, and that is not our situation. Mark’s lack of details can cause us to search deeper to find modern applications of God’s word. And we don’t have to search far to see what might be tempting us to stray from our mission in this life.

Our mission is not the same as that of Jesus, but it follows from his. Ours was revealed almost 60 years ago in a Vatican II document addressed specifically to the laity, wherein we women and men of the church were commissioned to not only save souls but also to transform the world into the city of justice, peace and love. Where are we supposed to do this? Significantly, we have access to places the formal church establishment does not. Our mission territory is where we live and work… all the areas of modern living that are seldom open to the ordained. How are we to do this? Perhaps by the attraction of our living the beliefs and values that we hold…or by using the gifts and talents that we have been given to make the world a better place for others. But therein lies the temptations for us. We can be tempted to use our power, possessions or gifts all for our fantastic selves, forgetting the biblical injunction to love others as ourselves. We can use our resources and connections to inflict suffering on others, or to lift them up. The choice is ours.

Jesus emerged from the desert, tortured by wild beasts yet sustained by angels, as the intersection of “divine love and human solidarity” (John Shea). We, too, when we are open and receptive to the Good News, can exercise our human freedom to turn away from think- ing and behaving that alienates us from God and others. We, too, can image the promise of the kingdom of God, the union of heaven and earth, as in the rainbow in our first reading, and as Jesus did emerging from his desert experience. When we appropriate the Good News into our bones, we store up riches in heaven, we put on the mind of Christ, and we can help a new humanity and a renewed creation unfold.

The choice of how to proceed is ours.

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