First Sunday of Lent
'Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart' (Rm 10:8)
One of the long lasting practices of my own Christian life has been a love of using Scripture in the form of Lectio Divina, slow meditative reading, short phrases read over and over again, which then form part of silent prayer, where the Word enters the mind and soul only to later bubble up to flow in different directions such as insights, encounters with Christ in different ways but above all praise.
I learnt this, as I did much of my present rule of life, in the context of a Benedictine monastery, training as a young monk. Nobody sat down and gave me a template or instructions for doing Lectio, the Novice Master just dumped you in it, the timetable set apart two sections of time, one an hour the other a half hour for it and off we went. But in the context of this great spiritual tradition, the example of older monks acted like a gentle wind, blowing you in the right direction.
So for me, this Sundays Gospel of the Temptations is all about our response to the challenge of the living Word-who is Christ. They are pretty dramatic experiences, life changing in their intensity, and the sort of temptations that only occur very infrequently but when they do, test us to the very core of our being.
Let me try to unpack what I mean and then look at the three temptations of Christ in a different way. The starting point is what I have hinted at, somehow the Word of God is crucial to our life and experience as Christian, as the Letter to the Romans states, it is near us, for example in our words spoken and in our hearts as we experience life and love. Scripture then, especially Christ our Gospel is essential for our life. We need to let that Word of Christ reach us, maybe we are helped by homilies and sermons (I hope!) or commentaries on scripture, but effectively and essentially we open ourselves to the Spirit who lets those words become the voice of Christ.
So the three temptations: Let's leave the exegesis alone for the moment. What do they speak of to us? Well today I've broken them into three distinct statements:
Life is simply more then existence, bread alone meaning all that we need to just get on with life isn't everything, the heart and soul need nourishing, above all we must go back to seeing life, work, prayer, this world as part of God's Kingdom, so we must be open to the Word calling us to notice things and experience the other.
2. Many great friends of God discover the experience of God in images or dreams, Benedict and Julian of Norwich both saw God in an experience of smallness, Benedict as a ball of light, Julian as an hazel nut, for them as for us God may be transcendent, beyond our grasp but that doesn't man God also reaches into our lives and hearts, we see God in small things, in the pieces of our life, So we hold onto this and resist the temptation to put other things in place of God, and so we believe that God is in all life and can be found by us!
3. The last temptation for us isn't really about testing God, we do that all the time, and I suspect that the Most High has a sense of humour about our feeble efforts to challenge divine law, rather its about testing ourselves, checking our value system frequently, it's really about 'sense and sensibility', being aware that despite all appearances, God is our beginning and our end and in Jesus becomes the main focus of our lives on this small blue planet!
Raise up your power and deliver us,
O Lord our God.
When we are overwhelmed by the storms of temptation
raise us up by your strength.
Hear us, O Lord. Amen.
"In proportion to your humility you are given patience in your woes; and in proportion to your patience the burden of your afflictions is made lighter and you will find consolation; in proportion to your consolation, your love of God increases; and in proportion to your love, your joy in the Holy Spirit is magnified. Once we have truly become His children, our tenderly compassionate Father does not take away their temptations from them when it is His pleasure to 'make for them a way to escape' (1 Cor. 10:13), but instead He gives His children patience in their trials. All these good things are given into the hand of their patience for the perfecting of their souls."
St Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies (42)
"The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods."
Merton. No Man is an Island
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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