Sunday, February 17, 2013

Temptation in the desert



My dear brothers and sister in Christ

Grace and peace in God, our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit as we celebrate this Sabbath day of rest. Shortly after I after I arrived here to be pastor, I went to the WIT Rally up in Forest City. I tried to make it to all the civic celebrations for the towns of my parishes that summer but, unfortunately, some of them overlapped each other. When I walked the rally grounds, I saw all kinds of vehicles. But, being a camper myself, I wanted to see the inside of one so the guy who was showing me around walked me over to the new campers. He first showed me a diesel pusher with three slide-outs. It was a huge camper with two bathrooms, beautiful tile floors and a queen-size bed. At the time, I was living in Forest City so I figured that I should probably get rid of my camper and have an actual Winnebago. So I asked my tour guide how much it would cost. He told me around $300,000 and I realized I probably wasn’t going to own that particular model. So, he showed me a couple of others that were just as nice and then he showed me the smallest model they made at the time. It was on a truck chassis and had a small full-size bed in the back and a small bathroom and dinette. I thought to myself that I could probably get something that size so I again inquired about the price. Let’s just say that it was still out of my price range, which is why Fr. Paul, who owned a Winnebago prior to moving here, now lives in Forest City and I live down south. The crazy thing is that these vehicles are supposed to be used to go camping. We go camping to remember the simple life, to “rough it” for a few days. Yet, then we bring TVs and satellite dishes, cell phones and computers with internet connections and all other kinds of amenities until you wonder if you’re even “roughing it” at all.

As we begin this Lenten journey, we start by hearing about the desert, the ultimate place of roughing it. Both in the first reading and in the gospel there are references to it. The challenge for us, Iowans, is that we probably don’t know what it’s like to live in the desert. We may think that we’ve been in the desert the past couple of years because of the drought but that’s like someone who has a broken leg thinking that they know what an amputee is going through. To be in the desert is to be surprised by the presence of rain not the absence of it.

Yet, despite the fact that most of us probably haven’t lived in a desert, I still think it’s an apt metaphor for the beginning of this Lenten season. In Pope Benedict’s book, “Journey to Easter” he says that the desert has two qualities to it. First, there is silence. The silence is what draws us there. We go because we think we want the peace and quiet of being alone. But, then, when we get there, we find out quickly the second quality of the desert: it is a place of temptation. You start to miss things like Television, telephone, internet, and other things.

We hear about Jesus in the desert in the gospel today. The devil comes three times and tries to tempt Jesus and three times he fails. My favorite statement from this gospel is when St. Luke says, “(Jesus) ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.” There’s a part of me that thinks, “Duh! You think so? He’d been fasting for 40 days of course he’d be hungry.” But, St. Luke is merely letting us know that Jesus is weak physically so the devil thinks it’s his chance. First with food, then with power, and ending with authority, the devil thinks that he can trick a starved, tired messiah into doing his will. But, each time he proposes something, Jesus sees through it for the trap that it is. Even the reasonable things are ways the devil thinks that he can get into our life. The Pope says that Jesus will once again be the in the desert when he is on the cross and once again the devil will be there to tempt him. But Jesus began in the desert saying God’s will be done and the crucifixion will be no different.

I don’t know about you but at this point in Lent, I think I can sympathize with some of what Jesus is going through. I usually start to question whether I can sustain the discipline necessary to keep up my fast. I think that it would be better if I just moderated my use of pop or television or candy or whatever instead of just giving it up entirely. Maybe it would be better to just watch the news and nothing else instead of giving up watching TV entirely. In my heart, I know this is the devil trying to get me to say “My will be done” instead of “Thy will be done.” Yet, we know we must remain faithful to the Lord through our Lenten acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let’s take strength this Sunday from the Lord who shows us how to avoid the temptation toward mediocrity and how to gain spiritual perfection by following the example of the one who first said no to the evil one.

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