CATAPULT YOU: A HOMILY ON THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C
What this man is doing will help us to understand our readings of today. In order to shoot a catapult, first you put a stone into it, then you pull it back. The further back you pull it, the further forward you can expect the stone to go, and the hotter the impact it will make. What we can learn from this is that in order to have a good future, it is important to go back to the past. If you have not sorted out issues from your past very well, then you cannot built a good future. sometimes you may even have to go as far back as your birth, maybe as far back as the history of your parent, and their parent, and their parent, etc. The further back, the further forward! Lets go there!
LENT AS GOING BACK TO THE PAST
Moses said to the people, “The priest shall take the basket of first fruits from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into the place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God.”: It is important to understand what happened in the past in order to understand what is happening now. The Israelites have a tradition of offering all their first fruits to the Lord. For many children, whenever they start working, they will give their first salary to their parent. This is a sacrifice of recognition of the fact that they would not have been where they are without their parent. In the same way, the Israelites would offer their first fruits to God, recognising that if he did not save them from Egypt, they would have still been in bondage. Even their children, who were not born at the time of the deliverance, will have to make the same offering, recalling what God did for them as a nation. There is no way the offering will make sense to them, if they did not remember what happened in the past. Sometimes, you need to remember all the sufferings you have been through, or which your ancestors had been through, in order to appreciate what you now have. Knowing your past will always end with the worship of God. Personally, when I think of how I grew up, I realise that even if I offer my whole life to God, it will not be enough. We celebrate lent for 40 days because the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years, thanks to their stubbornness. So, during lent, we do not only go as far back as Christ, we also go as far back as Israel. Indeed, Jesus is the Israel of the New Testament.
HOW MANY DAYS IS LENT?
Brethren: What does the Scripture say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”: Some churches do not celebrate lent. The only celebrate Easter. If you look at it very well, the same reason why they do not celebrate lent is the same reason why we celebrate it. Notice the word ‘CELEBRATE’. Yes, we celebrate lent, even though we fast and pray and give alms. These practices should not be painful experiences we must endure, but our little offering for all that God has done for us. The churches who do not celebrate lent do so because they believe Jesus is already risen from the dead, and there is no need to declare him dead once again. Interestingly, that is the same reason we celebrate lent. We are celebrating lent and it is important for us to know that, even though we are celebrating the passion and death of Christ, right now, Jesus is risen from the dead. That is why we say lent is 40 days instead of 46. Sundays of lent are not counted because Sunday is always the day of the resurrection, even if it is during lent. Lent is our way of going back to the past in order to appreciate and celebrate the salvation that Christ has won for us. Remembering his sufferings should not leave us sorrowful. That is why on the Sundays of lent, we are not to fast. Those Sundays are to remind us that the Christ, whose suffering and death we remember is risen from the dead even as we remember his suffering and death. That is why lent is also a joyful season, even though we usually do not see lent that way. We are only going to the past for the sake of our future. We are only shooting the catapult. That is why, even during lent, we are given a second reading which reminds us that we are to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead in order to be saved. Just because we are remembering his death does not mean we should forget his resurrection. The Sundays of lent are meant to do just that.
JESUS THE NEW ISRAEL
At that time, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.”‘ And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you.’ and ‘On their hands they shall bear you up, least you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.: It is important to see the connection between this Gospel and the First Reading. The gospel started by telling us that Jesus was returning from the Jordan. That is where He was baptised. During that baptism, a voice came which said ‘This is my beloved Son….’ Notice that the devil will later use the expression ‘If you are the Son of God….’ This statement did not begin at the baptism of Jesus. In Exodus 4:22 God said Israel is His firstborn son. God refers to the nation of Israel as if He is referring to one person. This image can also be seen in our First Reading. This is because, Jesus will later become the New Israel, in fact, the Real Israel. The same declaration is made in Psalm 2. This Israel (Jesus), will go into the wilderness, just as the Israel of the Old Testament was also in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus only spent 40 days because He is different from the Old Israel. The Old Israel was disobedient, but this New Israel is obedient. His obedience has to be tested in the same way the Old Israel’s obedience was tempted.
First with food; we remember how the Old Israel was hungry in the wilderness and complained against Moses and against God, until God gave them manna from heaven. Even with the manna, many of them still complained. They could not have the faith of the Psalmist who says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High… Says to the Lord… My God in whom I trust!”. This is what Jesus did when He told the devil that only by the Word of God can a person truly live. He was hungry like the Old Israel, but He refused to fall into the temptation like the Old Israel. This temptation represents all our temptation to pleasure in all its forms (food, drink/drugs, sex, pornography, over indulging in anything). Our Lenten fast helps us to train ourselves for this kind of temptation. It is called temptation to the lust of the flesh.
Second temptation is with power. The Old Israel was tempted in the same way, and he ended up worshiping the golden calf in the wilderness. Jesus refused to worship any other thing or person except the living God. He is going back to the past to make things right even from the past and into the future. This temptation represents all our temptation to power. This is the temptation to the lust of the eyes. The devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth which belongs to the devil. Yes, worldly things belong to the devil. Watch what you watch. Our eyes are often drawn to things (money, the people we adore, fame, material things, parties, fun, etc.) and we not only want these things, we worship them. This is why during lent, we practice mortifications and penance. It helps us to deal with this temptation to the lust of the eyes, so that we do not end up worshiping other gods without knowing it.
The third temptation is the temptation to pride. In fact, it is the last temptation, and it is the worst of them all. It is hard to see how this temptation is related to the Israelites in the desert. It will be seen in the answer that Jesus gave to the devil ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’. Here He is quoting Moses in Deut. 6:16 when he said to the Israelites ‘Do not test the Lord your God as you tested Him at Massah.’ Psalm 95, also made reference to it when it says ‘As on that day at Massah in the desert, when your fathers put me to the test.’ The word Massah itself means ‘Testing’ or ‘Trial’. The place is so named because that is where the Israelites put God to the test. Our of our pride, we can put God to the test also. We become so proud that we make a God of ourselves and even presume on the word of God. Pride ruins even all the good things we do. That is why it is kept for last, because it is a very dangerous weapon of the devil. That is why obedience to God, and faithfulness to the word of God is the greatest antidote to pride.
Jesus the New Israel is our King who has gone back to the wilderness of old, to right the wrongs of our ancestors. We also are invited to shoot the catapult today and in this Lenten season, to go back to the past, even that of our ancestors, not in order to remain there but to obtain healing even for ways in which the sins of our parent would have left us wounded. We are not prisoners of our past. However, if you want to go back to that desert, do not go alone. You cannot handle the demons you will find there. Make sure you go with Jesus.