Lent I

“Imagine a host asking one of his guests, “Would you like some ham?” and his guest answers, “Man does not live by ham alone.” How perplexing an answer! The question is not whether the guest would like to eat only ham and nothing but ham. The question is whether he would like some ham now. Why not say, “Sure! Thanks!”?”

“Satan says to Jesus, “Turn these stones into bread.” And Jesus says to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God.” Why does Jesus say this? Of course man doesn’t live by bread alone. But bread is one of the things by which human beings live. In another place Jesus himself explains that no good father will give his son a stone if his son asks for bread. Here it is Jesus hungry and has only stones. Why instead shouldn’t he have bread?”1 It wouldn’t seem that He had anything else to sustain Him.

As it turns out, Jesus did have sustenance, and it wasn’t ham. The very Word of God had the words of God for His food. Jesus knew Scripture as if He inspired it (which He did). His tempter knew Scripture almost as well; Satan has quite a memory for Scripture.

So Satan threw some Scripture back: “Throw yourself off this Temple,” Satan said, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways,” quoting Psalm 91. “They shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” It’s interesting that the Devil didn’t continue quoting that psalm, for the next verse says “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” Satan held his breath as he watched Jesus sing that psalm to Himself, hoping that Jesus wouldn’t remember the part about trampling the dragon under His feet. Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

All the kingdoms of the world can be yours, Satan said, if you just kick your Father out of His chair and let me sit in it for a while. Again Jesus wielded Scripture like a sword, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

St. Paul tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I wonder how many of us think about Scripture that way; Scripture as something alive and active in our lives, something with the power not only to instruct us but move us. When I was a kid, nothing bothered me more than when my mother would quote Scripture to me. That might seem odd, but usually she quoted Scripture in the context of me having misbehaved and then trying to weasel my way out of it. I knew that I couldn’t win an argument with the word of God; I shuttered a little bit while writing this, thinking of my mother quoting Proverbs: “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” (22:1) It took me a long time to get over seeing the Bible as a book that witnessed against me and everything I had ever done wrong. That wasn’t my mother’s fault, it was mine; I had stood against the Bible rather than letting God’s word work within me. I didn’t want anything discerning the thoughts of my heart or probing my spirit. I didn’t realize that my heart was already discerned, that my spirit had always been laid bare before God.

On Ash Wednesday I invited you, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. I invited you to take a good look at yourself by stripping away all the stuff that you use to insulate yourself from the world, from other people, and from your God. I invited you to dive into Scripture and let God work on your hearts and souls. In essence, I invited you to go out into the desert with Jesus, leaving the booze or the food or smokes or the TV or whatever else you use to prop up your world behind, and in quietness and with trust in the Lord, let Him teach you what it means to be you, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, what it means to be loved by God.

Now, my love of pork roll borders on fetish, but as it is written, “Man does not live by ham alone.” But we have sustenance still; we have that same word of God that His own Son used to make Satan surrender in shame. We have the words of Christ written for our edification and we have Christ in His Body and Blood to nourish our bodies and souls. Christ refused to make stones into bread in the desert so that He might be the Bread of Life; He refused to tempt God so that He might deliver us from temptation; He refused the dusty glory of earthly kingdoms so that we might join with Him in His eternal Kingdom. May the God who gave us His Son open our hearts to His word, that we might be complete, equipped for every good work.

1.Stump, Eleanor, for The Center for Liturgy Sunday

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