Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, ©, March 10, 2019:
This first Sunday of Lent, may we remember who we are. We need to remember who we are because there is still a little bit of the devil within me. Lent is our time to get rid of whatever bit of the devil remains in us. We do that by overcoming sin in our lives. So, how do we do that? Today’s Bible readings help us.
From the first reading from Deuteronomy, the Israelites conducted a ritual to thank God for His blessings of land and freedom. There is a creed in that ritual that the Old Testament Jews recited to remember who they were: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,…we cried to the Lord,…He brought us out of Egypt…bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey”(Deut 26:5-9). The Israelites sinned when they forgot who they were and what God had done for them. They forgot the greatest miracle in the Old Testament, the Exodus, and sinned. We do the same. We forget the central belief in our creed, that Jesus Christ died and rose for us. Then, we sin. Lent is a time for us to remember Jesus’s passion and death, so that remembering, we repent of sin. Then, when we celebrate the central belief of our creed, the resurrection of Jesus during the Easter vigil, we will have died to sin and risen to new life with Jesus Christ. The core of this reading from Deuteronomy is the Israelite making an annual offering before the Lord. The worshipers remember their origin as a people without land or freedom. They are now free to give a tithe to the Lord only because God freed their ancestors from the Egyptians, then gave them a bountiful harvest and land as their new home. This was part of a tithing ritual in the Temple. After this ritual, the entire group assembled by this successful farmer celebrated God’s bountiful love by sharing a meal. That should ring a bell for us: the liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Make it your top priority this Lent to come to Sunday Mass, to confess your sins, and to receive Jesus bodily in Eucharist. That is a successful formula to help us to overcome sin.
St. Paul writes to the Romans that Jesus Christ is the end of the Law. Faith in Him is the righteousness that counts. Jesus Christ has come to us, has died, and risen from the dead. God’s salvation is available in Jesus Christ. St. Paul emphasizes that no one who places faith in Jesus will be cheated or confounded. Placing faith in Jesus Christ is us remembering who we are, placing our faith in this central creed. It is important to recognize and declare Jesus Christ as Lord, a phrase very likely borrowed from early church worship. We remember who we are and what Jesus Christ has done for us by coming here, to the Sunday Mass.
Finally, in today’s gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is tempted in the desert. Jesus’s forty days in the desert are meant to parallel Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus. It was a time of testing and failure by the Israelites. It was a time of testing and remaining faithful to the Father by Jesus. By allegory, Jesus goes into the wilderness of the desert to rescue man from his exile in sin. Christ wrests man from Satan’s grip.
Jesus saves us. He came to us, died for us, then rose from the dead to return us to God His Father. That is the central part of our creed, our faith. When we remember that, we stay faithful and through Jesus, overcome sin. That’s what this Lent is all about. That is why we fast, pray, and give alms. The devil tries to divert Jesus from His central mission of suffering for us to enjoying earthly power for Himself. The devil fails. Jesus remembers who He is. The worshiping Israelite who gives tithes remembers who he is. May we do the same and place our faith in Jesus Christ, who saves us.
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