Lent 01, Year A

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Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb. 2:18)

For all the effective concern he showed repeatedly for the hungry (cf. Mt. 14:13-21; 15:29-38; 16:9-10), Jesus never lost sight of the long-standing Jewish conviction that “not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt. 8:3). Jesus once said to his disciples who had urged him to eat, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (cf. Jn. 4:31-34). And in order to leave no room for misunderstanding, he immediately added, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”

But sadly, even the apostle Peter found it difficult to understand both God’s will for Jesus and the work God wanted Jesus to finish. Shocked by Jesus’ prediction of his passion and death, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. And Jesus’ reply was: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Peter’s thinking at that time was actually closer to Satan’s, who had dared Jesus to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple since, as God’s son, he should suffer no harm whatsoever. But though shocking and hard to understand, suffering harm, nay, death, was very much part of God’s plan for his son. Jesus did not regard equality with God something he should grasp and he refused to take advantage of or exploit divine sonship for selfish interests. “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave ...” (Phil. 2:6-7). Son though Jesus was, “he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Or, as Phil. 2:8 puts it, “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

As Jesus saw, then, his divine sonship and the work God gave him to finish, both had everything to do, first and foremost, with being obedient to God. It was precisely because he was committed to obeying God that he was not about to exchange his God-given mission for the role that the world, misunderstanding that mission, wanted him to play. There was something more fundamental to his being God’s son than just his using it, and the power that comes with it, for selfish ends or merely to impress. Obedience to God would also demand, of course, that he should denounce devil worship in no uncertain terms. Therefore he ordered: “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

And instead of being dazzled by the magnificence of earthly kingdoms, power and wealth, Jesus renounced them. He preferred lowliness and poverty, alerting would-be followers that the Son of Man had nowhere to rest his head, and also counseling that a person who would be perfect should sell his possessions, give to the poor and then follow him (Mt. 8:20; 19:21; Mk. 10:21; Lk. 18:22). And he opted for the lowly and the poor, proclaiming them blessed and identifying himself as their Evangelizer.

And Jesus’ obedience, teaches Rom. 5:19, was an act of vicarious advocacy on our behalf. Jesus, our champion, fought the devil for our sake and as our representative. So then, despite our being under the domination of sin (Rom. 3:9), we can succeed where Adam and Israel of old failed. We need not easily fall for the devil’s empty promises as did Adam. We do not have to go around in circles wherever God’s Spirit might have led us into, in the way that the Israelites did in the wilderness—dissatisfied, grumbling to no end, constantly complaining, doggedly demanding more, forgetting how graciously and abundantly God had supplied their needs and how many and how great the straits God had already rescued them from (cf. www.biblegateway.com).

We can overcome, yes, for we are offered the strength for everything through him who empowers us and on account of grace that overflows all the more where sin increases (Phil. 4:13; Rom. 5:20). We can resist the temptation to take the easy way out, in the sense, for instance, of giving bread to the poor without courageously and effectively asking at the same time why they are poor. We can turn down the suggestion to turn injustice, oppression and poverty into “holy resignation and obedience to God’s will.” We need not give in either to those who tempt us to force God’s hands presumptuously by taking matters into our own hands. We can refuse to be witnesses of a political and social Messiah and take part instead in the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (cf. John R. Donahue, S.J., “Jesus in the Dock,” in the Feb. 11, 2002 issue of America).

We can, thus, finally bear witness to the true Messiah who gave his body up and shed his blood for us, drinking the bitter cup of suffering in total submission to the Father’s will and in order to finish the Father’s work (cf. Mt. 26:42). Eating the bread then and drinking the cup of the Lord, who is not ashamed to call us “brothers,” we will come to understand the Father’s will and work—as Peter eventually did—and resist accordingly those who attempt to persuade us to show contempt for the church of the poor and make those who have nothing feel ashamed (Heb. 3:11; cf. 1 Cor. 11:22).