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February 14, 2016

When I was a little boy I thought of Lent as a time for giving up candy and the Saturday afternoon show on television so it wasn’t a very welcome period.  However it did make us realize that there was something special about it.  What do we think about Lent now?  Why does the Church still hold on to something which seems so foreign to the world’s way of acting?  Actually Lent is a time for re-evaluation, or for sowing the new seeds.  We tend to go through life perhaps vaguely discontented with what we are doing but not really able to do much to change things.  That’s why the Church presents us with the Gospel account of our Lord in the desert and his temptation by the devil.  When we look at it carefully, it is easy to see the same categories of temptation confronting us in our everyday life.

Jesus had fasted in the desert; he was hungry, so the devil tempted him to do something about it.  Probably we have some experience with hunger or we have known about it while seeing the hungry people starving to death through the news or on TV.  When I was on the sea for 7 days without food or fresh water, I was really hungry and thirsty.  Do you know what I had in my mind?  Food, food, food only!  Surely Jesus was hungry and the devil knew the weakest point at that moment and the devil attacked him at this point.  Everyone of us has some weak points.  The devil will attack us the same way.  We are tested to see if we will be faithful to God even when we are aware of emptiness inside us.  Can we be hungry and still trust God?  Can we face difficulties in life and still follow God’s plan?

The second temptation Jesus faces is to believe that he could serve God without pain.  The question is: can Jesus love God with his whole soul even when his life is in danger?  Will Jesus risk his life for the sake of his mission?  Can he love God even when his life is slipping away?  Jesus’ whole life answers “yes” to these questions.  He knows that loving God does not mean exemption from harm.  He will teach us that we will be saved; he does not tell us that we will be safe.  In the end Jesus’ own death on the cross proves that he loves God more than life itself.

Finally Jesus is tested about his attitude to power and wealth.  To get power will he go to any lengths?  Will he love God with his whole might, with everything he is and has?  Does he grasp for the kind of power and prestige that most people admire?  Will he base his kingdom on twelve shaky apostles or on the firm ground of real estate?  Jesus’ whole life says no to that kind of power and authority.  And he will teach his own followers to avoid that kind of power: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”  Jesus does not only talk, but he gives us an example as a servant of God to serve God and all people.

Jesus lives his life facing real temptation and that is a measure of his humanity.  As we enter Lent we ask ourselves how we face those temptations too.  When times get rough and we feel empty and alone, do we still trust in God?  When our life just seems a vast vacancy, do we still believe in the Father who loves us?  Are we willing to risk our necks for the sake of the Gospel, or do we settle for guarding our own security?  Do we make our authority felt so that people are degraded, or is it a real service to others?  These were not easy questions for Jesus, so they are not easy for us.  That is why we need forty days: to let these questions reach us again so that at Easter we can proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.