Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

Today Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted. “Fly,” says Satan.  “Turn stones into bread. Be super-Jesus.” Or worse, “Be sub-human.  Worship me.” It seems clear that Satan is tempting Jesus to deny his humanity. As if to say, “Why bother? It will be too messy.” But this would be for Jesus to deny His very Self, for Christ’s humanity is the sacrament of His divinity; the full, real expression of God’s love for all creation. Satan wants Christ Jesus to deny the self-forgetful Love that he enfleshes. He desperately wants Him to forget the Love that will lead to his excruciating self-emptying even unto death, death on a cross. 

The incarnation drives Satan crazy, he who is the Accuser, for he knows it will be his undoing. If only God would just stay in heaven, if only Christ would leave the earth as Satan’s domain, the domain of beasts and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. If only Christ Jesus would deny his humanity- the reality of his love for us, in us, with us. It is the cross that will be Jesus’ final answer to Satan. For on the cross God will let Himself be murdered for our freedom from all accusations against us, and death will die in Him. The Accuser does not have a chance. He knows it and he’s frightened to death. Jesus the Lord is undaunted by Satan’s foolishness. Jesus is sovereign, self-assured, victorious. And so this scene in the desert is a foretaste of His paschal victory over sin and death, which will be accomplished in quiet trust and obedience to the Father.

God has taken our flesh as his own; our flesh that blemishes, blushes, bruises and blotches; our flesh that burns with passion, and aches, gets dirty, even smells. Christ Jesus is not embarrassed to clothe Himself with our ruddy flesh. His temptation by the Accuser was to be other than He is, God with us, God for us. Our temptations are perhaps a zillion variations on a similar theme- to be other than who we are- dearly beloved children of God.

Like Jesus we live with beasts, our inner demons, but we too have angels ministering to us, if we dare notice. We are day in day out persecuted, beguiled and tempted but never, ever abandoned for we carry about in ourselves the dying of Jesus so that his risen Self may also be revealed in us. This is our hard and beautiful destiny, our baptismal truth- we are in Christ.

Christ Jesus, our refuge in all temptation, is tempted today and is victorious to reveal to us our own power as members of His Body. We too are majestic even in our fragility, because our flesh is his flesh. The Eucharist we celebrate each day makes explicit this truth of our commingling with God in Christ.

Duccio di Buoninsegna  (c.1255 - c.1319), The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled),
17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York.