1 Sunday of Lent, Year C
Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Lent is a time when the faithful examine our relationship with God and our priority of values: what is important before God and important in the Christian life. Lent lasts forty days, reminding us of the forty years, God’s chosen people crossed the desert to the Promised Land. The forty-day period also reminds us of forty days of fasting and penance of many prophets in the Old Testament.
To prepare for the Sinai covenant, Moses fasted forty days (Ex 34:28; Dt 9:9). The prophet Elijah also fasted forty days on the way to Mount Horeb (1Kgs 19:8). According to the Christian tradition, John the Baptist fasted forty days before preaching a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus himself fasted forty days before his public life (Mt 4:2; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2). Before entering the Promised Land, the people had to wander through the desert for 40 years. They were reminded to remember those wonders God had done for them by delivering them from the Egyptian slavery and making a covenant with them on Mount Sinai.
In the desert, they encountered temptations and trials, and often they failed God. They complained against God. They challenged God to show his strength and to rescue them. They abandoned their God in order to worship alien gods and molten cows (Gen 32:4, 8; Dt 9:16; 2 Kgs 17:16; Neh 9:18). Each time they were sorry and repented their sins, God opened arms to welcome them back.
Today’s Gospel tells us Jesus was led to the desert and the devil tempted him in three vices: gluttony, vainglory and pride (Lk 4:1-13). As man, Jesus was subject to temptations. He overcame the temptations, thanks to his fasting and prayers in order to be faithful to his mission.
Through baptism, God also made a covenant with us. He became our God and we became his new chosen people. God wants to lead us to the Promised Land of heaven. However, before that we have to go through the desert of life. We have to undergo temptations and trials. From the Christian point of view, temptation is the work of Satan.
God allows temptation to test his people. When our desires and wishes are not satisfied, we complain against God and blame him. Temptation is a rule to measure our freedom. Facing temptations and trials, we have a choice either to reject them or to yield to them. If there is no freedom to choose, then we are not responsible for our action. Temptations are symptoms of our weak points. Each person has different weak points: some greedy for vainglory, some for money, some for sensual pleasures Therefore, the devil often takes advantage of our weak points to attack.
In order to remain faithful, we have to call on the name of the Lord as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13) and profess our faith in God as Moses told the people of the Old Testament (Dt 26:5-10). Lent is a season of repentance and penance, a time of fasting and abstinence, sacrifice and works of charity. The liturgical color of Lent is purple, standing for a spirit of repentance. The advantage of fasting is not only to help build up our spiritual strength in order to be able to fight temptations when they come along. If people fast only to maintain good health and to stay in shape, to reduce high blood pressure or high cholesterol, then fasting has no spiritual value because there is no religious motive attached. Therefore, if we want to have spiritual value, we have to bring religious motive to our fasting and abstinence. In our time, we need to examine the way we fast and do penance.
Living in some present societies, we can see there is too much food, too much meat. Therefore, if there were a chance to eat fish, it would be good for physical health also. Besides those who like to eat fish, then to abstain from meat is not really a penance. If we abstain from meat by eating lobster for instance, then we have to reexamine our sacrifice and abstinence because lobster is both good and expensive. Besides the Lenten regulation, which is simplified these days, the Church wants us to do more fasting and penance voluntarily. Moreover, the Church also wants us, not only to abstain from food, but also to watch our eyes, ears and tongues, in order to see, to hear and to speak only what is decent, what is pleasing to God.
In Lent, we remember our failures and weakness and we do penance, to ask the merciful God to forgive us our sins. Lent is a time for conversion, a time to return to the Lord, through prayer, penance including fasting and sacrifice and works of charity, a time for trying to see where we stand before God, a time for sharing Christ’s passion, suffering and death, as to participate in his glorious resurrection. We do not fast, we do not do penance just for the sake of fasting and penance, but we fast and do penance for the love of God. That is a big difference. When we do things for the love of God, our lives will be transformed into God’s image and will become transcendent.
A prayer for being faithful to the baptismal covenant:
Oh Lord, our God!
As your people in the Old Testament
faced temptations on their way to the Promised Land,
we are also facing temptations and trials in our lives.
Grant that we may remain faithful
to the baptismal covenant.
Teach us to use prayer, penance, fast,
sacrifice, self- denial and works of charity in Lent
to build up our spiritual strength
as to fight temptations. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong