First Sunday of Lent – Year C

06 March 2022

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

First Sunday of Lent – Year C

Homily

[Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13]

Over the last few days, I’m guessing many of us have noticed the high prices at the gas pump. The cost of a litre of gas has reached levels we have not seen before. Prices are increasing in other sectors of the economy, too, as inflation is on the rise, making it difficult for many individuals and families to manage the costs. Of course, these kinds of high prices we experience here are nothing compared to those endured right now by the people of Ukraine. The high prices they are paying are measured in terms of loss of life, family separation, and professional sacrifice. Although the cost is very high and painful, nevertheless people are willing to pay it for the sake of a greater good: their freedom as a people and nation.

Throughout the coming weeks of Lent, we shall focus upon the high price Jesus paid for the greatest of all goods – our salvation: the sacrifice he made of his very life on the Cross so that we might live with him forever. In the passage we have today from St. Luke, we hear the devil tempting Jesus not to pay the price. Jesus has received from his heavenly Father the mission to save the world by the gift he would make of himself. The devil attempts to seduce him away from fidelity to that mission by tempting him to focus not on the will of the Father, not on the world’s need of salvation, but on himself.

In the first temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to use his power in his own self-interest. “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” By the second, the devil tries to get Jesus to worship him and thereby acknowledge as master and lord someone other than the Father. The third temptation seeks to have Jesus conform to popular ideas about the extraordinary powers that any heaven-sent leader should display, and thereby win the worldly esteem of the people. In each of these ways, the devil is saying to Jesus: “Don’t pay the high price of fidelity to God. Putting yourself first is far less costly.”

We know well that these same temptations come to us. By baptism, we are followers of Jesus Christ, called to pay the high price of fidelity as we heed the Lord’s call to take up our crosses on a daily basis, to live for him and for others. Our world today is awash in the first temptation to live entirely from self-interest. The worship of creatures rather than the Creator – the second temptation – is communicated in the encouragement to bow down before the idols of wealth, possessions and reputation. Seduction to conform to popular ideas and ideologies is enormously powerful, as this third temptation is today accompanied by threats of public shaming and ostracism.

Discipleship costs. Following the Lord exacts a high price. The temptations we face not to pay it are multiple and constant. As we reflect upon this, another temptation can easily creep into our minds and hearts: that of despair. We know only too well our weaknesses, and our experience of having surrendered to temptation might lead us to fear that we could never truly be faithful, that we wouldn’t ever be able pay the price of discipleship. We need to be very careful here, because despair is another artful device of the evil one by which he entices us to sin against hope.

If we return now for a closer look at the Gospel passage, we will see the antidote to this despair as it provides the reason for real hope that we can pay the high price. In each of the three temptation scenes, Jesus quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy. The citations come from passages that recount how the ancient Israelites, wandering in the desert, were tested and failed, and in this way set up a contrast with Jesus. Where the Israelites once failed, Jesus now succeeds; where they were not faithful to God, Jesus now is. The point is this: we can be faithful to God only in communion with Jesus. Our faithfulness comes from him. We can pay the high cost of discipleship, but only through our union with him who did pay that price of fidelity on the Cross. Apart from the Lord, we are just like the Israelites of old, wandering in today’s many existential deserts, easily tempted to yield to our cravings. In Jesus, we find the strength to be faithful because he gives us a share in his own fidelity and enables us to pay the high price for the sake of the greater good of holiness and salvation.

We hope that the high prices we are paying for food and fuel will decrease someday. We pray that the extraordinarily high price of freedom being paid by men, women, and children caught in the midst of war will, please God, fall away altogether and quickly. We know that the high price of fidelity to God is always with us. The cost of self-denial is simply part and parcel of being a disciple of the Lord. The temptation not to pay it is likewise always present, and therefore so, too, is the need to have constant recourse to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Here in the Eucharist, then, let us turn to the Lord once more for his saving help. His self-gift on the Cross is rendered present on the altar so that we might join the offering of our lives to his. Here we receive a participation in his fidelity to the Father. May this grace strengthen us, amidst our many temptations, to remain faithful to the Lord, and to the identity and mission that is ours as his disciples.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
March 6th, 2022