Once upon a time, an elderly man in Tennessee owns a large farm for several years. He has a pond in the back. It is properly shaped for swimming, so he fixes it up nice with picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some apple and peach trees. One evening the old farmer decides to go down to the pond, since he hasn’t been there for a while, and look it over. He grabs a five-gallon bucket to bring back some fruit. As he nears the pond, he hears voices shouting and laughing with glee. As he comes closer, he sees a bunch of young people swimming in his pond. He makes the teenagers aware of his presence and they all swim to the deep end. One of the youngsters shouts to him, “We’re not coming out until you leave!” The old man frowns, “I didn’t come down here to watch you people swim or make you get out of the pond.” Holding the bucket up he says, “I’m here to feed the alligator.”
At first, Our Mother Eve did not believe the tempter. She stood up to it and reiterated God’s command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. She remained strong, until she heard the words, “…the moment you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods…” The fruit of the tree was so attractive that her husband ate it without even a word of protest. When they ate it their eyes were opened and sin flooded the world. They became embarrassed about the beauty of the human body. They stopped walking hand-in-hand with God through the garden. And they lost Paradise. They fed…the alligator.
Notice that Jesus never believes the devil! How crafty to tempt Jesus with provisions, power and position. After the fast of forty days and nights, who is not hungry? As a good son of Israel, after learning of the love of his Father, who is not confidant that God will save him if he jumps off the temple roof? As one who was with the Creator from the beginning, who would not want the world as his own? But we need to beware of the crafty arguments. With every temptation there is always a price to pay. For a moment, let us pretend that it is ok to give in to crafty arguments. If Jesus turns stones to bread- he is still hungry. If Jesus jumps off the temple roof, he tests God. If Jesus bows down to Satan to receive power and wealth- he sells his soul. If you will, Jesus refuses to feed the alligator.
But oh slyly, we feed the alligator. Someone tells us a racist joke. We repeat it, and, we laugh along. Another person drops a gay slur and we brush it off to no avail. And we all laugh at it. A friend of mine pronounces his position on immigration and refugees that is in direct violation of the Sacred Scriptures and Catholic Church teaching, and I do not challenge him. There are so many ways and methods to feed the alligator.
What we need in this Lenten season is a good dose of obedience. The word literally means, “to listen.” When I am obedient to God or to my abbot or to my community, it means that I am listening to them. And I “obey” because the reasoning and the wisdom make sense. When I am disobedient I refuse to listen to reason and wisdom. Adam and Eve became disobedient when they listened to the wrong person. Instead of following God’s wisdom they decided to follow the hallow argument of the serpent- “you won’t die- in fact, you’ll become like gods.”
In this Lenten season, do-not-feed-the-alligator! May this Eucharist strengthen our resolve to follow our conscience and obey the voice of the Lord!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
1st Sunday of Lent