Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent Year C
Theme: The desert
By: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Homily for Sunday March 6 2022
Readings: Deuteronomy 26, 4-10; Romans 10, 8-13; Luke 4: 1-13
“My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt … When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us … and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm … and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.” (Dt 26).
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10).
“Then the devil led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him: If you are a son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, … Jesus said to him in reply: It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Lk 4).
Lent by its nature is similar to the desert that is at the center of the Gospel story of the temptations of Jesus. The desert reduces man to the essentials, stripping him of pride and vanities and projecting him towards some few fundamental things like water, food, right path, shelter from the sun. Lent is our pathway to the substance of our Christian existence. And it does so today with three biblical passages linked together by a subtle yet basic theme, that of the profession of faith, the root of personal and community experience of the people of God.
Our biblical reading opens, in fact, with the oldest creed of Israel. It is set within the spring liturgy of the first fruits when the Jews while offering their first products to God proclaim their faith in the Creator and Lord of history. The Creed they professes revolves around three articles of faith:
That of the vocation of the patriarchs, “wandering Arameans”, that of the gift of freedom after the heavy experience of Egyptian oppression, and the gift of the promised land, that is, of free homeland “where milk and honey flow”.
There is a decisive fact in these themes: God does not reveal himself with mystical or paranormal apparitions, he does not appear amid golden skies but hides himself in the dust of the earth, in the hours of our days. Believing in God, then, is never a taking part in a smoky spiritual story; it is never an abstract adventure of thought, it is instead a journey into the often dark and fragile plot of our history. It is there that the “incarnate” God appears.
The most complete formula of faith in the Bible is, therefore, thanksgiving for the presence of God with us, for his revelation in everyday life, for his intact and “innate” love for humanity, for his works of salvation. The most complete response of faith is not that which is exhausted in the silence of prayerful contemplation, but it is that which expands in the houses and in the streets, in the commitment of every day, in the continuous arc of acts of love for our brothers and sisters
From the Creed of Israel we pass unto the story of the temptations, the profession of trust that Christ pronounces three times towards the Father, and his plan of salvation. For Luke the summit of the temptation is not “the very high mountain” like Matthew has it but Jerusalem, the city which his gospel is oriented. It is precisely in Jerusalem, the summit of Christ’s life, that Jesus’ temptation and profession of trust have their culmination.
There, in fact, the supreme test of messiahship takes place: If Jesus had rejected his ultimate destiny, that of salvation achieved not triumphantly but through the extreme poverty of the cross or if he had renounced his perfect trust in the Father; we would have lost faith in a true Savior. But Jesus on the pinnacle of the Temple declares his definitive “yes” to the Father, also becoming for the faithful the luminous emblem of the biblical faith, that is, full and total adherence to God and to his plan traced in the cosmos and in history.
We then come to the third profession of faith, the Creed mentioned by Paul in the letter to the Romans. Here the Apostle echoes the Church which proclaims her paschal faith through two parallel formulas. The first is: “Jesus is the Lord”. The term “Lord” is a celebration of the divinity of Christ because in the Greek version of the Old Testament (Kyrios: LORD) is used interchangeably with that name sacred and unpronounceable of God himself, (YHWH – Yahweh). The second formula is even more explicit: “God raised him from the dead”. This is the joyful announcement of Easter.
This continuing faith Paul opens to all, Jews and Greeks, must be professed with the “mouth” and with the “heart”, that is, with total adhesion of conscience (“heart”) and with that of existence and witness (“mouth”). Mouth and heart, liturgy and life are not separable, otherwise we become hypocrites. A famous scholar of Paul, the Jesuit S. Lyonnet, commented: “The external and living profession must harmoniously correspond to the intimate adhesion of the heart, that is, of the whole soul, intelligence and will of this faith”. And it is only through this whole and not partial profession of faith that salvation is possible for us: “Whoever invokes the name of the Lord will be saved”. Lent is then inaugurated in the name of faith, the foundation of Christian existence. The forty days that lie in front of us stretch out almost like a single call to rediscover the purity of this faith, freeing it from everything that stands in opposition.
Fr. Jude Chijioke