Sunday Sermon for February 17, 2013, the First Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Dt 26:4-20; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
In the first reading today we hear Moses instructing the people of Israel shortly before they were to cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In this instruction not only are the people reminded of their obligation to worship the Lord and offer Him sacrifice, but he also places on their lips the words that repeat the goodness God has shown to them and the gratitude they owe Him.
It is so easy for us to forget how grateful we have to be for all of the good the Lord has done for us. In the Old Testament, the people were to offer the first fruits of their produce. Now, of course, we offer the sacrifice of Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, but the basic message is the same: we have to make sacrifice to the Lord because He is God and because of our gratitude.
We might object that it is not always easy to remember, especially when there are long formulas, like what we see in the first reading. In the second reading St. Paul, quoting the Book of Deuteronomy from four chapters beyond what we hear in the first reading, says that the word in on our lips and in our hearts. Moses spoke these words when he explained to the people that the law of God is not too high for them or across the ocean; rather, it is near, in the mouths and in the hearts of the people.
For us it is even closer. Not only did God promise through Jeremiah that He would write His Law on our hearts and in our minds, but we have the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and to enlighten us regarding God’s will in particular circumstances. We have much more for which we have to be grateful than the people of Israel did as they came into the Promised Land. We are not just His people, we are His children. We do not have a Covenant which is external to us, we are incorporated into the Covenant which is the Person of Jesus.
Unlike the people of Israel, our gratitude to God is not shown only a few times each year when every male had to go to Jerusalem for certain feasts. Our gratitude must be shown daily by the way we live. While we offer the sacrifice of Jesus, we also want to offer God sacrifice that is our own. This is really what Lent is about: showing our love for and gratitude to the Lord.
As we try to be generous with God, we all know that we are going to be tempted to forgo what we have chosen to offer to God. In the Gospel reading we see our Lord being tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are the same three places the temptations will come for us. They probably will not be as severe as they were for the Lord, but the devil will try subtly to pull us down by getting us to focus somehow on ourselves.
Just as we see the Evil One behind all of the temptations of our Lord, so he lurks in hiding to set traps for us. Of course, for most of us he does not have to try very hard or even be very subtle. He looks for the areas of weakness in us and then exploits those weaknesses. One from the world might be the attachment to human respect whereby we decide that we need to fit in, be accepted, and be liked by the people around us. Those of the flesh might include wanting to eat what we have given up, sleeping in instead of getting up for daily Mass or prayer, just giving in to laziness or selfishness. Most of us will not have to deal with the devil in any direct or major way, but he will be very satisfied if we stop or at least cut back on our spiritual lives.
The enemy of our souls knows that if he can just get us to be more worldly or more self absorbed, that we will not be very spiritual or absorbed in the things of God. He does not care if we do not worship him, per se, as long as we are not worshiping God of offering Him due sacrifice from a grateful heart. So, while we are to live our gratitude daily, like the people of old, we need to be reminded and encouraged in our practices.
As Lent begins, consider the love and gratitude we should have for the Lord. Then think about the reality of each as seen in our generosity, especially our sacrifices. During Lent we need to focus on loving God and resisting the temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.