Reflections on the Readings
First Sunday of Lent - March 1, 2009 Year B
By Dennis Hankins
1 Peter 3:18-22
Theme: The Meaning of Being Faithful
"As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (Jesus) John 15:19
I have heard Christians say they had more difficulty with temptation after Christ than they had before Christ. That may be. Before Christ you did what pleased you. After Christ you desire to be pleasing to the Lord. To no longer share in the world's rebellion against God is to experience the meaning of being faithful. We need Lent because we are not always faithful to the God who loves us. We need confession and penance. We need to hear again, "Your sins are absolved."
This first Sunday of Lent highlights baptism and temptation. Baptism separates us from the world. Just as the eight souls aboard the Ark were saved through water, baptism which corresponds to this now saves you. (1 Peter 3:20, 21) Temptation is that which we grapple with in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. As long as we are in the flesh and there is a devil there will be temptation. So we will always need Lent!
St. John Chrysostom remarked on Jesus' desert experience this way: For since with a view to our instruction He both did and underwent all things; He endures also to be led up thither, and to wrestle against the devil: in order that each of those who are baptized, if after his baptism he have to endure greater temptations may not be troubled as if the result were unexpected,(emphasis mine) but may continue to endure all nobly, as though it were happening in the natural course of things. (Homily #13 on Matthew's Gospel)
Through this holy Lent we renew our commitment and willingness to be more deeply transformed. We cannot overcome the evil in the world with evil in our hearts. The great meaning of our baptism is not that it's a removal of dirt from the body, but rather a fuller and more transforming meaning, an appealing to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Paul described it as 'being transformed by the renewing of our mind.' (Romans 12:1, 2)
We cannot overcome evil with evil. We overcome evil with good.
It is this goodness we hope to embrace and live in more completely. No one has showed us the way to do this more clearly than St. Paul. He said, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted we endure; when slandered we try to conciliate. (1 Cor. 4:12)
The reality is clear. The world loves darkness because its works are evil, deceiving and destructible. Thinking itself outside the gaze of our holy and loving God, the world aligns itself against the truth. Full of the spirit of error, the world plots to destroy the sacredness of life and love. So St. John tells us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (1 John 2:12-17)
One of the most poignant lines in the Bible is this one from St. Paul who says, "...Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me." (2 Timothy 4:10)
The message of Lent is clear. A deeper conversion is needed if we are to overcome the world; if we are to convince this world of a kingdom that is not of this world. As it is, we do not belong to the world. Being almost persuaded of this will not result in a life truly overcoming the world. As we embrace fasting or less feasting as unto the Lord we advance in the things of the Lord. Excelling in the virtues of faith, hope and charity, helps us overcome the deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.
It is the divine power of the Father that will aid us to escape the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and help us to become partakers of the divine nature. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
We need Lent as kind of a spiritual spring cleaning. Returning to things that nourish the soul and revive the heart will bring us closer to him whose heart burst with love for the world on an old rugged cross. Make no mistake about it, God is not willing that any should perish, (meaning you and me), but that all should come to repentance, (meaning you and me).
Let us come to this season of repentance, a time that promises newness of life and joy and receive the Spirit's power that we might be more than conquerors through him who loved us and gave himself for us.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, restore to me the joy of your salvation. Ever let me be filled with you Spirit. Help me this Lent to be willing to enter into a deeper conversion. Amen.