First Sunday in Lent– B
When I say the word “temptation,” what comes to your mind right away? Is it a moist chocolate brownie with thick frosting? Is it hot, salty, greasy French fries? If that is what you are thinking, we have to go a level deeper because temptation is a significant factor in all of our lives.
Temptation affects young people, old people, and all of us in between. None of us is exempt from temptation. Even Jesus was tempted. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet He never sinned” [Hebrews 4: 15].
Today’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent has Jesus going out into the desert for forty days and forty nights to pray and to fast and to be tempted by Satan.
Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet He never sinned” [Hebrews 4: 15]. And coming out of that desert experience, Jesus says to us: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
When you are at the supermarket, waiting in line to check out, there are those tabloids right there in the rack. Now I am sure that nobody here buys one, but I bet that, while you are waiting, you might glance at the front pages.
Why do we do this? Maybe it gives us some assurance: “There are people out there who do worse things than I do!” Or it might be the thought: “I guess I’m not the only one who does that!” But deep down inside us there is an interest, a fascination, even a certain amount of rejoicing at someone else’s downfall, or alleged downfall. And yet, when the truth is told, we all have our temptations, our sins and our downfalls. And we hope that nobody will ever find out exactly what they are!
Temptation is part of our human condition. Oftentimes temptation appears to be so insignificant – like it doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference. But when we sin, our eyes are opened to what we really fell for.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and then their eyes were opened and they were ashamed and tried to hide from God. And what they did was so significant that every single one of us comes into this world marked by their original sin and in need of Baptism.
There’s a little rhyme that goes:
Knock – knock.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
“A little lonely sin.”
“Enter,” I said.
And then all hell broke in.
That little rhyme says a lot, doesn’t it? Our sins seem so small to begin with, but then all hell breaks in.
That’s one aspect of temptation.
A second one is this: very often temptation leads to sin that becomes habit-forming, even addictive in its nature.
When I was a child, I had an allergy to chocolate: when I ate chocolate I would get sick. I remember one time in first grade when I ate some chocolate at lunchtime. And after lunch I got sick in the classroom.
Now you would think I would have learned my lesson, but I continued to eat chocolate and get sick until I was fourteen years old!
I could ask myself now, “I wonder if I have outgrown that allergy?” Well, I am not willing to take the risk, so I can tell you today that I have not had one bit of chocolate since my freshman year of high school.
I mention this because there is a parallel with sin. We sin, we are sorry and we say, “I will never do that again.” And then what happens? We think: “Well, this time it will be a little different.” Or, “I am a bit stronger now – it won’t affect me that way.” Or, “I deserve a little freedom.” And we do it again and again and again.
When are we finally going to wake up and realize that sin does not deliver what it promises? Sin delivers regret and guilt and pain!
So how can I stop? There is only one way – and not through sheer willpower alone. We need God’s grace to recognize temptation and sin for what they are. We need God’s grace to be forgiven and to change our lives by changing our habits. And God is ready and willing to give us that grace – especially as we observe the season of Lent.
And what kind of God do we sinners turn to as we “Repent and believe in the gospel?” “The Lord is kind and merciful. slow to anger and rich in compassion” [Psalm 103: 8].
On Friday and Saturday evenings this coming week, the 23rd and 24th of February, at 7:30 PM, we are hosting “Compassion-the Musical” in Saint Joseph Church. With a cast of 90 people – some of whom are from our parishes – it tells the story in word and in song of the compassion of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Saint Peter, who is in prison and awaiting his own martyrdom. Saint Peter reflects on scenes in the Gospel that show how compassionate Jesus was to the poor, the sick, the children, the sinners and others at the margins of society.
“Compassion-the Musical” is our Lenten mission this year for our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes. It is a two-hour production with an intermission. And it is suitable for all ages.
Having hosted “Compassion” before, I am so happy to share this blessing with you. You might well like to come both nights! I know that I will.
It is production of such high quality that it could take place, just as it will be presented to us, in Playhouse Square – and I would gladly pay $100 for a ticket. And best of all, there are no tickets involved here. It is free – and you and your families and friends are welcome. A free-will offering is all that is being asked.
So please be here so that you will not miss what everyone will be talking about afterwards. Come appreciate even more deeply the Lord’s mercy in “Compassion-the Musical” here in Saint Joseph Church this coming Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM.
I will leave you with a story. There was an Indian brave that saw a mountain in the distance, and he longed to climb it. And one day he did – all by himself. He got to the top of that snow-capped mountain, and he felt very proud of himself as he looked out and saw the villages below.
And then he heard a rattling sound near his feet. It was a rattlesnake who said to him: “Indian brave, it’s so cold up here, and I’m so hungry. Would you pick me up and carry me underneath your cloak, next to your heart, and take me down this mountain?”
And the Indian brave said: “Nothin’ doin,’ Snake. I know what you’ll do. You’ll bite me and then I’ll die.” And the snake responded: “No I won’t. I promise!”
So the Indian brave picked up the rattlesnake and he put it under his cloak next to his heart. He carried that snake all the way down the mountain, and placed it gently on the ground. He was very proud of himself for his courage. Then he heard a rattling sound, and the snake bit him in the leg.
The Indian brave said: “Snake – you promised you wouldn’t do that! Why did you bite me?”
The snake responded: “Indian brave, you knew what I was before you carried me close to your heart.”
That story makes a point about temptation. We know what it is before we carry it close to our hearts. So don’t be surprised by temptation – we’re all affected by it. And don’t underestimate it either. It is no small thing! And sin can become habit-forming, even addictive.
The remedy is turning to Jesus, our Savior, who says to us today: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet He never sinned” [Hebrews 4: 15].
And still, “The Lord is kind and merciful. slow to anger and rich in compassion” [Psalm 103: 8].