Browsing Homilies

First Sunday of Lent

Dt 26:4-10 | Ps 91 | Rom 10:8-13 | Lk 4:1-13

It’s chilling to hear the devil quote Scripture. The very psalm we just sang is twisted in his mouth to fit an agenda that’s not of God. He uses it to tempt even Jesus himself, and the temptation is one that is ever relevant. The devil tries to make Jesus believe that he can treat God as a vending machine that will dispense favors at this command. This is a real and common temptation; lots of us slip into treating God like this from time to time. It makes God comprehensible to us, and it offers some sense of consolation when our lives are challenging. When we succeed at living out the demands of Christian life, we often hold an unspoken expectation that our faithful sacrifices will be rewarded—with a job that pays well, with uncomplicated and joyful relationships, with the easy conception of the exact number of children we would like.

This is all the more enticing because there’s a partial truth at the heart of Satan’s lie. At first glance, it looks like Satan is asking Jesus (and us) to trust in God, who does provide for our needs and who does act in our lives. God’s trustworthiness is true. But things that are true about God can easily become idols if we think they are all there is to God. What the devil tempts Jesus to commit is essentially an act of idolatry. It turns God into something God is not—a puppet under our control, a trained pet doing tricks at our command.

This is a captivating image of God; it fits into our lives and makes us comfortable. It might even enable us to dismiss the suffering of others because they must have “deserved it in some way.” This god, we understand, and we sometimes cling to this understanding even when we know it's incomplete. The devil continually allures us with inadequate ideas of God so that we, satisfied with a god that is too small, will ease our pursuit of the God that is real. But the reality of God is always bigger than we envision, and we cannot allow our images of God to replace God in our hearts. Our life of faith is one of continual idol-busting, breaking down every notion that ultimately fails us when we strive to love God in the fullness of God’s reality.

We’re not called to a one-sided objectification of God; we are instead called to authentic relationship with God. We see this in the first reading: God perceives God’s chosen ones, hearing their cry and seeing their affliction. And God acts, setting them free and giving them land. There’s an intricate dance here of giving and receiving, of calling and being heard.

God, of course, always acts first; it is only by God's goodness that we even have anything to offer back to God. We are called to respond, and to respond with gratitude, with worship, with awe. God receives this response, and the cyclical dance of relationship continues.

In many ways it’s like our most intimate relationships with each other. As God draws us into relationship, we become ever more deeply acquainted with the infinite goodness of God. We realize that God doesn’t fit into the neat categories that we sometimes create. God defies all our human attempts to prioritize among people and exclude the ones we have deemed unworthy.

Jesus responds to his temptation with humility, which isn’t mere self-abasement but is a confident resting in the truth of who we are and who God is. Jesus didn't fall into temptation because he knew who he was and whose he was. That humility is what God calls us to in this Lenten season. 

There’s ongoing work here; we have to keep tuning our ears to hear God’s voice and our hearts to want God’s will. God’s action doesn’t always make sense. God doesn’t always act in the ways we would choose. But keeping ourselves open to the reality of God, it allows us to enter a bit more deeply into God’s wild creativity and the reckless love He has for each one of us.


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