Sunday 10 March 2019: Lent 1
The Lord is rich enough
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
By Duncan Macpherson
Features Editor and Roman Catholic Deacon, Retired University Teacher
Context: Sunday Morning Mass in a, mainly middle class, suburban parish, attended mainly by young families from a variety of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds
Aim: to encourage us to engage in a re-evaluation of our values during Lent
When there is an outbreak of ‘foot and mouth’ disease among livestock, animals are put into quarantine. The purpose of quarantine is to impose a period of isolation on people or animals that may have been exposed to or might spread infection. In seventeenth-century Venice during periods of plague there was a forty-day period, ‘quaranta giorni,’ before passengers and crew could go ashore. This term relates also to the forty days of Lent which commemorate the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness.
But why did Jesus fast for forty days in the desert? We all know that he did this to parallel the stories of the Israelites spending forty years in the desert before they could enter the promised land (Numbers 14:34) and the forty days and forty nights Moses spent without bread or water before writing down the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 34:28). The desert offers plenty of space. Fasting and other forms of self-denial can create space and an opportunity to focus on what is real and what is important and what course of action to follow.
In today’s Gospel the way in which Jesus thought about these questions is told in story form as a discussion with the devil. Each of these discussions reminds us of the ways in which the Israelites had failed God in their time in the desert. They had rebelled against the apparent absence of food and then they had complained that the food God did give them was boring. But in his testing time Jesus refused to change stones into bread.
The Israelites had worshipped false gods, but Jesus resisted the temptation to worship the devil and to adopt his false values of violence and domination.
The Israelites had tested God by doubting whether he could give them water but Jesus refuses to put God to the test when the devil challenges him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple. The sins of the Israelites in the Old Testament were the sins of materialism, worship of false gods and lack of trust in God. Jesus was showing a different way.
So which way shall we follow? Paul in Romans is concerned with a check-up, not for foot and mouth, but for mouth and heart: ‘If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.’ When the good news of Jesus is the controlling factor in our heads and hearts then we are healthy. Lent is a good time for a check-up about this. There is nothing wrong with wealth and success but the desire for them disfigures our world and must not govern our lives. Lent can give us space to decide to become part of the rival value system of Jesus. We have only to watch the news to see the pain and division that comes from the worship of purely materialistic goals. The communion with each other that we celebrate in the Eucharist is a sign of the way Christ counters such divisions. Paul tells us that ‘Scripture … makes no distinction between Jew and Greek’ and that ‘we all belong to the same Lord who … is rich enough, however many ask for his help.’
This is an edited version of a sermon published in Duncan Macpherson (2013), Breaking Daily Bread: Lent to Pentecost. London: Melisende. pp.18-19.
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