Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13


February 28-29, 2004, 1st Sunday in Lent, Cycle C

A little boy went to his father on Ash Wednesday, and asked him if could have $5 for Lent. His father looked at him quizzically and asked why he wanted $5 for Lent. “I am going to give up candy for Lent,” the boy replied. “I still don’t understand what that has to do with the $5,” responded his father. The boy explained, “We’re supposed to give up something that would tempt us really bad, aren’t we?” “Yes,” his father said. “Well,” said the boy, “Without the $5 I wouldn’t have any money to buy candy so it really wouldn’t be hard to resist that temptation!”

Every Lent we start out listening to the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert.

And every year, the Church urges us to journey through Lent with acts of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. I know this will sound like heresy to some Catholics, but I actually find I benefit more from liturgical or spiritual disciplines when I understand them, rather than just doing something because I was told to. I would suggest that this familiar story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is a wonderful reflection on fasting, almsgiving, and praying.

The first temptation presented to Jesus by Satan is to use his power to turn some stones into bread. Jesus was most likely very hungry after fasting for 40 days. Jesus responds that we “do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Fasting is not just a church based Jenny Craig program. I am in the middle of reading a book titled The Progress Paradox. The author, Greg Easterbrook, examines the paradox that on the one hand, most people who live in the First World, and certainly most people who live in Stow, have a life that would have been described as paradise by 99% of all the human beings who have ever lived on this earth. By any measure of quality of life, from food, clothing, and shelter, to personal safety and healthcare, to entertainment, communication, and pleasure we have access to choices that were no more than pipe dreams just 100 years ago. One the other hand, a growing majority of people in the First World describe themselves as unhappy and unfulfilled.

One of the reasons for this paradox, the author suggests, is that we have confused needs and wants. Needs can be satisfied. We only need a certain amount of food to survive. Once we have eaten that amount, that need is satisfied. Wants can never be satisfied. No matter how much we have, we can always want more. The problem is that we can get sucked into chasing wants to the point where we ignore needs. One professor of sociology writes that American men and women work themselves to death to get stuff that sits around unused.

Fasting is about being able to distinguish between needs and wants. Jesus obviously is hungry but he is not starving to death. He wants bread to eat, but he needs the word of God to live. Fasting can help us re-establish our understanding of what is need and what is want.

The second temptation Satan presents is to show Jesus all the nations of the world and their riches, and offer them to Jesus if he will just bow down and worship him. Jesus responds that only God is to be worshiped. Almsgiving isn’t about giving up something of ours to someone poorer. It is about recognizing that everything in this world belongs to God; and that God has given us the use of everything in this world to work towards God’s plan of making this world a paradise. We don’t own anything; we are stewards. We are not landlords; we are property managers. Recognizing that what we have is not ours but God’s helps us to give alms as one way of carrying out of our stewardship.

The third temptation in the story has Satan bringing Jesus up to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and taunting him to throw himself off to see if God has really commanded his angels to bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus responds by telling Satan that we are not to put God to the test. How often do our prayers involve some sort of test of God? Just grant me this prayer God, and I will really believe in you. Or if you do this God, I will do that. Now don’t get me wrong, prayers of petition are wonderful things, as long as we understand what we are praying for. If we are praying to change God’s mind, do we really believe it when we say that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Who changes in prayer, God or us? By remembering who God is, we can pray better. There are two words that should describe our prayer: Gratitude and praise. Dag Hammerskold, who was UN Secretary General put it beautifully: For all that has been: Thanks. To all that will be: Yes.

So let us enter into our Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and praying with the wisdom in today’s Gospel story. Let us fast as a way of deepening our understanding of our needs and wants, and the needs and wants of others. Let us give alms with a deepening understanding that all we have is God’s and our vocation is to be good stewards of those blessings. And let us pray with a deepening awareness of who God is: a God we do well always and everywhere to give praise to and give thanks to.

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