God alone

  • February 12, 2010
First Sunday of Lent (Year C) Feb. 21 (Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13)

Ingratitude is a poison of the heart and soul and many suffer its deadly effects. For so many, the glass is always half empty rather than half full and there is a corresponding willingness to focus on lack rather than abundance.

We stand at the beginning of Lent — traditionally a period of fasting, prayer and penance. But the greatest conversion of all is the realization of how blessed we are and how much God has done for us. Once that breakthrough has been achieved the rest is not so difficult. But reaching that point can be a problem. One can be so sunk in negativity and self-pity that the many blessings received become absolutely invisible. On the other hand, one can have a sense of entitlement, an arrogant belief that one has a right to blessings and good things. In either case the result is a self-made isolation from God.

Deuteronomy reminds Israelites to constantly remember and recite in God’s presence the collective story of their people. They were weak, they were few in number, they were unexceptional, they were nothing — and yet God chose them. They were blessed with liberation, guidance, protection and the gift of a land in which to dwell. Only after calling these blessings to mind are they to lay their gift before the house of God as a sign of gratitude. It is impossible to be profoundly grateful and at the same time selfish, bitter or resentful. A good Lenten practice is that of remembrance and thanks — calling to mind each day the many things for which one is grateful. In addition to that we need to recognize that the blessings we have received are not our right nor in most cases have they been earned or deserved. They were given to us for one reason: the faithful love of our God. And a grateful heart wants to share that love with others.

The supreme expression of the gracious compassion of God is the transformation and salvation given to those who call upon Him. Perhaps the wonder of it all has worn off for most of us, but for the first generation of the followers of Jesus there was only shock and awe at the realization that God was not making any distinctions between different people. No longer was God a fence or dividing line. God was now the God of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religious background or social standing. It is a lesson that Christians have often forgotten throughout our long history, and from time to time we must be firmly and clearly reminded. What about those who don’t explicitly call on the name of the Lord? There are many ways to do so. The name of God signified God’s essence or nature, which is love. Those who seek to walk in justice, righteousness and love and to mirror these qualities in their lives are indeed calling on the name of the Lord.

The wilderness — real or imagined — is where we are vulnerable and where our fears threaten to overwhelm us. What was the nature of the temptations that Jesus faced? First of all, they were very real temptations with the possibility of failure. And they were not what we usually associate with temptation. They involved a sense of entitlement and autonomy. We can imagine the silky but sinister voice of the Tempter as he tried to derail Jesus and His mission. After all, if you are the Son of God then you have privileges and powers that go along with this status. Use them to your advantage. You are so vulnerable — you need protection and power. Manage your own life — leave God out of the equation. The Tempter pushes all the right human buttons — fear, insecurity, the need for love and the desire to transcend limitations. The Tempter invites Him to transfer allegiance and reliance from God to him. After all, he insists, God is unreliable. But Jesus refuses to play the game. He cannot be manipulated by fear, pride or lust for power. It’s all about God, He replies, and God is absolutely trustworthy and faithful.

Situations in which we experience fear and insecurity are opportunities for growth. Do we rely on God and are we willing to walk in faith and trust? We can respond as Jesus did: God alone.