February 17, 2018

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always about the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which occurs after His baptism and before He begins His public ministry. In Matthew and Luke, there is a dialogue between Jesus and the devil. In Mark, there is no dialogue, which I have always taken as a license to imagine a dialogue between Jesus and Satan.

I’m afraid that the last few times this has come up (every third year, when we are in Cycle B), my imagination leads me to the same place. I imagine Satan taking Jesus to the year 2018. I see him showing Jesus the parts of the world that will back up his argument and strengthen the temptation. I can imagine him saying to Jesus: “Jesus, I know what you’re going to tell them. You want to tell them how much your Father loves them. You want to tell them that their God is a God of forgiveness and compassion and mercy. You want to tell them to love each other; to even love their enemies. Well look at the world, Jesus. This is what it’s like 2000 years later. You see those buildings with crosses on the top of them? They’re churches dedicated to you. You hear those people singing? They’re singing your praises. Isn’t it lovely? But let me show you something else. Let me show you how they actually treat each other. There are people who are still poor and without food. There are people, people who say they believe in you, killing each other. There is still greed and lust and exploitation going on all around this world that you love so much. Why waste your time on them? They say they believe in you, but they don’t really mean it. There’s no point in giving anything of yourself for them. Leave them to me. I know their language. I know how to deal with them. I know what they want. And it’s not really what you have to offer them. Sacrifice? Love? Mercy? Forget it! You might as well give up before you start. You could be doing this until the end of this planet’s existence, and it won’t really matter to them. Go back to your Father and leave this forsaken planet to me.”

I can see the devil tempting Jesus to give up hope. It’s a temptation for all of us. We hear of another school shooting. We see and hear the anguish of the families of victims. And no matter what we think the solution might be, nothing seems to change. So what do we do?

What does Jesus do? Again, Mark does not provide us with what He might have said, but we do know His response. For Mark tells us that after John the Baptist had been arrested (yet another reason to give up hope), Jesus goes into Galilee proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Jesus does not give up, but rather tells a weary people that the fulfillment of their hopes has come! All through the Gospels, Jesus does not give up on His disciples, or the people whom he encounters, or even the Pharisees and scribes who are opposed to Him. He has not given up on us, even if we might have given up on ourselves.

If Jesus has not given up, neither can we. We can’t stop working for justice and peace. We can’t stop advocating life, especially for those pushed to the margins. We can’t stop participating in building up the kingdom. And we can’t give up on ourselves. To repent, to turn back to God, is Good News! God can heal us and lift us up, no matter what!

During Lent, there are many creative and inspiring things said and written about practices we can do during this season. A priest friend of mine shared Pope Francis’ message about Pause, See, and Return. I would add that perhaps we look this Lent at the choices we make, and see whether they contribute to despair or to hope, and then look for ways in which we can foster hope in our world.

In Christ,

                   Fr. Phil, CP