In Christian literature, books exist that compiled the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers…monks and nuns living in the desert. One such story goes like this~ At first Abba Ammoe says to Abba Isaiah, “What do you think of me?” He says to him, “You are an angel, father.” Later on he says to him, “And now, what do you think of me?” He replies, “You are like Satan. Even when you say a good word to me, it is like steel.”
The first Sunday of Lent is always the “Son of God” test. The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness only to meet the devil who gives Jesus the “Son of God” test. “If you are the Son of God, you can turn things into food and feed the world.” “If you are the Son of God, you will be powerful enough to overthrow the Romans.” “If you are the Son of God, you can do whatever you want, even jump, and God will save you.” Do we understand what is happening? Jesus is tired and weak from praying and fasting for forty days and forty nights. Many things look very glamorous as the devil takes advantage of this opportune moment. And he will return at another opportune moment- at the beginning of his Passion.
In the words of Sister Verna Holyhead, “We might ask ourselves if we ever put ourselves into the role of the tempter…For us, as for Jesus, temptation is not over after one successful struggle…” My brothers and sisters, the greatest evil is not world war, or massive starvation or even killing thousands of people on a grand scale. Yes, those are horrible evils. But they begin somewhere…and when we study the origin of evil we learn that the greatest is that we believe the lie. M. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled, “People of the Lie.” It was his statement on evil. He claims that when we do not check our egos we can easily coerce someone to believe the lie that I am powerful…I am dominating…I can do all things.
We might ask ourselves if we ever put ourselves into the role of the tempter…the devil…Satan. Those names are used simultaneously meaning “tempter,” “accuser,” and, “slanderer.” Before we shake our heads “no,” before we close our eyes and fall asleep we should challenge ourselves with these questions. How do I lie to someone? How do I tempt you? Whom have I slandered? There is at least one person we do not like, be it neighbor, family or community member. Lent says: pray for them. There is at least one person we tempt to believe our lies. Lent says: stop it. There is one person we slandered in the last year. Lent says: do something to change that person’s good name.
There is one more way I think we often act like the devil. Sometimes we tempt people to believe wrong things about God. Remember that the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem to the top of the temple. He tells him to jump…God will save him (notwithstanding the fact that Jesus is obedient to the laws of nature). In the words of Sister Verna, “Often we would like God to treat us as ‘different,’ ‘special’ people who deserve `miraculous intervention and deliverance from the limitations of our humanity. And when we think we can jump and God will catch us and snatch us from our stupidity then we believe the lie that God causes calamities.
In the words of St. Paul, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” God wills that we live. But when we believe the lie that God wills this and wills that…we must be very, very careful. As good and holy Benedictines, our salvation rests in Christ who points us to the Scriptures. If we are still searching for a Lenten penance how about the daily reading of Scripture? St. Paul tells us that the word is in our mouths and in our hearts. We confess that Jesus is Lord. But this same Lord was subject to human laws. Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God as something to lord it over others. Nor did he believe the lies of the devil…the tempter…the accuser…the slanderer.
We too are sons and daughters of God. Lent is the season to learn how to pass the “Son and Daughter of God Test,” and I know that I need a tutor. I need help along the way so that I do not pronounce words of steel but words of grace. May the Eucharist be our food on our Lenten journey so that at holy Easter we can present to God the first fruits of our Lenten practices. Happy Lent!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 1st Sunday of Lent