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Friday, 12 February 2016

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp

Deuteronomy 26:4-10,      Romans 10:8-13,    Luke 4:1-13
On the Gospel – Temptation

In the heat of the President Bill Clinton and Miss Monica Lewinsky affair the head of a women's support group spoke on CNN. This is what she said, in essence: "Monica Lewinsky has done nothing wrong. In the world of corporate establishments and in the White House bureaucracy, women who want to advance must use everything at their disposal: power, connections and sex. If that is what she has done, we see absolutely nothing wrong with that." The name of the game is: use what you have to get what you want. I am sure you have heard that before. Many people indeed take it as their philosophy of life. In our Gospel reading today, however, Jesus shows us that the principle of using whatever you have to get whatever you want is not always right. In fact, when that principle is applied without putting God first, it becomes a philosophy of the world, the devil's own philosophy, a philosophy that should be rejected even as Jesus did.

Our Gospel today is on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Three temptations are recounted: to change stone into bread, to fall down and worship the devil, and to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple. In each of these three temptations what the devil is saying to Jesus is, "Come on, use what you have to get what you want." And in each case Jesus overcomes the temptation by replying, "No, we can only use godly means to satisfy our God-given needs or to pursue our goals in life."

In the first temptation, Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness and at the end of it he was very hungry. The devil puts an idea into his head: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3). Notice that the first thing the devil does is sow a doubt in his mind: "if you are the Son of God." "Are you really sure God is with you?" The same thing happened in the garden of Eden. The first thing the Tempter said to Eve was, "Did God really say you should not eat of any fruit of the garden" (Genesis 3:1). Temptation always begins with a doubting thought. Did God really say this or is it one of those Sunday school fairy tales? Jesus overcame the temptations by refusing to entertain such doubts and by standing on the word of God.

Note, secondly, that people are tempted only with what they need or want. After his fasting Jesus needed to eat. So the devil tempted him with food. It is not a sin for Jesus to eat after fasting. The sin may lie in how the food is obtained. Should he follow the normal way of obtaining bread or should he take the shortcut suggested by the devil to obtain instant bread? Jesus refuses to take the devil's shortcut. The means we employ to satisfy our needs must be in accordance with the word of God. Feeding on God's word is ultimately more important than feeding on bread. "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone'" (verse 4).

In the second temptation the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises to give him authority over them if only Jesus would worship him. Remember that Jesus was about to begin his public life and was looking for a way to get the whole world to know him and accept his message. Again the devil tempts him to use what he has (his heart, his soul) to get what he wants (the loyalty of the whole world). Again Jesus says no. The end does not justify the means. "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'" (verse 8).

In the third temptation the devil asks Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple as a way to prove that he was the Son of God. Remember that the people were asking Jesus for a sign to prove that he was the Messiah. Jesus wanted to convince them that he was the one. But how do you do it! The devil suggested this sensational sky jump without a parachute. Again, use what you have to get what you want. Use your supernatural power to get the people to recognize you and believe in you as the Son of God, the Messiah. And again Jesus says no. The God of Jesus Christ is not a God of the sensational but a God who works through the ordinary, everyday things of life. "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (verse 12).

So you see, unlike those friends of Monica who believe you can trade off everything you have to obtain what you want, Jesus shows us that we should never trade off our faith in God or our moral principles to obtain anything in this world, because faithfulness to God is more precious than anything in this world.

On the Epistle – Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

A recent poll conducted for the BBC finds that Nigerians are the most religious people in the world. Nigerians receive this news with mixed feelings. “Yes, we are the most religious people in the world when it comes to church attendance, prayer and identifying ourselves as believers,” they say, “but why does our religiosity not translate itself into right conduct and fair business practice.” Nigeria, as you know, is said to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Is true religion only a matter of the heart and of the lips? This is the question that comes to mind as we hear Paul’s words to the Romans in today’s second reading: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Is true Christianity, then, simply a matter of believing in the heart and confessing with the lips? Are the hands and feet not involved? Does it matter how we lead our lives so long as we believe in our heart and confess with our lips? What is Paul teaching us here?

To rightly understand what Paul is saying and what this means in our daily lives we need to see it in the context of the early Christians in Rome. The Roman church was a severely persecuted church. Christians were persecuted not for what they said and did but for what they refused to say and do. You see, starting from the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor had adopted a divine status. At his death the emperor was deified and proclaimed to be a god, while his living successor was declared to be the son of a god (divi filius). Sacrifices and incense were offered in public worship to the emperor gods. They were invoked and addressed as “lord” (dominus).

But the early Christians believed that the only person to have walked this earth who deserved to be addressed and worshipped as God is none other than Jesus Christ. They, therefore, transferred to Jesus the title and the homage that emperor worshippers has conferred on the emperor. They called Jesus the true Son of God and addressed him as Lord while refusing to recognize the divine status of the emperors, even under threat of death. Of course some of them, out of fear of death, would deny their Christian faith and confess Caesar to be the Lord. Paul is not happy with that. In today’s reading he encourages them to remain strong in their faith in the Resurrected One and to confess him as Lord even if that would cost them their lives, for that is the way to attain salvation.

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (10:10). By secretly believing in Jesus in the privacy of their hearts, Christians are justified. This is not enough, however. Ultimate and final salvation comes only when one has the courage on one’s conviction to openly confess Christ as Lord with one’s lips. Against this background we can see that Paul is not telling them that believing in Christ in the heart alone is all that saves the Christian. Far from that, he is encouraging them to translate their faith into concrete and public action, even if that action is only to declare publicly that Jesus is the Lord. For that was the challenge of the faith in those days.

What is the challenge of the faith in our own day? The tendency to regard the Christian faith as a private matter is still a concern for us today. In many places it is not politically correct to identify ourselves as Christians either as individuals or as communities. France has banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in schools. The United States frowns at the public display of Christian symbols on government property, like the Ten Commandments monument in a Kentucky courthouse. In places like Nigeria where public display of religion is allowed, people display it but fail to follow through with the implication of faith in their day to day lives. Paul urges us today to think the thought (in out hearts), to talk the talk (with our lips) and to walk the walk (in our actions).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:47 am

    Thank you Chibuike for making Fr Munachi's reflections available. God bless you.

    Maikel Woods


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