First Sunday of Lent – Fr. Pete Iorio
February 29, 2020 – 5:00PM
The Zulus of Africa have been catching the ring-tailed monkey for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of this greedy and stubborn animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the hard-skinned melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. He cannot do it because his fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him.
Satan tempts us with similar traps because he knows our hunger for power, our desire for prestige and our greed for possessions.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we always hear the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. I believe it is important to know the context of this part of Jesus’ life. Just before this 4th chapter of Matthew, so in chapter 3, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River where His identity was revealed. A voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son,* with whom I am well pleased. His core identity is Beloved Son of God.
Once you know who you are, you can be tested. Before you know who you are, you just have options. From the River Jordan, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days and the Spirit never departed from Jesus.
As we hear the temptations, we need to ask ourselves this question: Who am I?? This is a serious question because the answer determines everything else in life. My answer can be I am … Peter, a man, a priest, a brother, an American …
I dare to say that the true and universal answer for each one of us to the question: Who am I? is “I am a beloved child of God.” All of the rest is added on. At our core, at the soul level, we are the beloved of God. When we forget our true identity, we get into trouble.
What the devil tempts the Son of God to do and what the devil tempts us to do is to forget who we are or to deny who we are. We can look at Genesis, at Adam and Eve when they were tempted. It was the same thing. God had made them in his own image and likeness… his beloved and placed them in the Garden of Eden. The tempter put into their minds to be something that they were not. The temptation is to be better than you are, to be tempted to have something that you do not have. They always have a choice. He tempts but cannot make them do anything.
One pattern that emerges from Genesis is the blame game: the woman made me do it. Oh really. For how many of us, is that true? We continue to blame another for our sins or for problems in our world? Most of us find it easy to blame as a way out of a difficulty. It is a primal temptation. My brothers and sisters: No one made you do it. A spiritually mature person owns his or her truth of having sinned, of having fallen into temptation. As long as you think someone else is your problem, you are stuck. Spiritually mature people do not go around blaming other people. Instead, the spiritually mature person sees a problem and looks for ways to improve it. He or she does not seek out who is at fault. When we automatically seek to blame, it sets up the dynamic to move out of our identity as the beloved and into hating other people who also are beloved children of God.
The temptations of Jesus caution us. Remember that the devil is a deceiver, a total liar. In each of the temptations, he begins, “If you are the Son of God,” in order to cast doubt on the identity of Jesus. Jesus is tempted to go his own way, to break with the will of the Father. He is tempted to become not the Suffering Servant that he is sent to be. He is tempted to become a powerful messiah whom the people will honor and rally around. Jesus knows who He is, the Beloved Son of God and He does not fall into the trap of using power for his own aggrandizement. He does not fall into the trap of needing wealth and possessions to bring him joy. He does not fall into the trap of boosting his ego with the prestige of being over other people.
Our mission is different than that mission of Jesus; however, there is the temptation to go our own way, making ourselves independent of God, just like Adam and Eve did.
The devil tempts us as he did Jesus to desire more things and to be better than others. Jesus shows us that path of descent, the choice of denying ourselves power, prestige and possessions is how we affirm our true identity in God as a beloved child. During Lent we all enter a process of changing and growing in Christ. Jesus did not cling to his power as mighty God and display it during the temptations in the desert. Instead, he let go of all of these desires and emptied himself.
Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are spiritual practices which strengthen us in letting go. There is great freedom to be able to not be attached to power, possessions and prestige.
So Let Go and Let God affirm your identity as a beloved child of God and give you freedom to live your mission in Christ.