Readings for the First Sunday of Lent Reflection:
Deuteronomy 26: 4–10
Romans 10: 8–13
Luke 4: 1–13
It was Christmas not that long ago, less than three months. Remember? The carols, the crèche, the great feast of the Incarnation, God become human.
Today’s readings called that to mind, for they represent the spirit of Un-Christmas. We thought we read in Luke’s gospel about three temptations in the desert, but we really heard a story of one temptation.
Why Jesus, you are out here in the desert; Jesus, you’re hungry. You don’t have to be, you can turn the stones at your feet into a feast.
Now, Jesus, look at all the power you can have. You can be in charge of all of it, the general manager of the universe, nothing can stop you. Just bow down and worship before me.
Jesus, here we are way up on the high point of the temple. Why not make a splash? Be a wizard, a Jewish Dumbledore! Do something spectacular, be a wonder worker.
In other words, Jesus don’t be hungry, don’t be insecure, don’t be weak and powerless. There is no need for you to be marginal. Don’t be like all the others who have to slog it out day by day, dealing with life’s issues. No, don’t be like the rest of them, don’t be human.
That is the great temptation, for Jesus to turn the Incarnation into a sham. Sure, look like a human, take on the appearance of a human. But don’t really be one. Don’t hurt, don’t hunger, don’t get tired, don’t deal with the ordinary. Don’t really take on the human condition, just play at being human.
That is the great temptation of the narrative we read in Luke. Jesus, be something other than human. Don’t enter into human history, share our world, know our experience. Dip your toe into human life, but don’t dive in and have to paddle along like the rest.
Notice the message of Moses in the first reading from Deuteronomy, about his origins and the origins of the Hebrew people. They were despised and oppressed but God heard their cries. From the outset, this is the conviction of the Jewish people, that though weak and seemingly insignificant, God loves them. That God did not choose the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans. No, it was not the great cultures and civilizations of the world, it was the small and politically marginal Hebrews that God chose. That is the radical claim of the Jewish people.
Of course, Christians take it even further. We make the audacious claim that God not only loves us, but actually became one of us. The great message of today’s gospel is simply that Christmas is true. In Jesus Christ, God drew close to us, the creator became a creature. Such is the love of our God. God became one of us – knows our pain, understood our hungers, has felt our needs, has seen our dreams. God loves human beings, so much that God entered into our condition.
This Lent as we think about what to do to grow in the Christian life, we might decide to finally start being human. To be human is to recognize, as Paul does, that the distinctions we so often draw to divide us – Jew and Greek, American and non-American, rich and poor, young and old, white and black, male and female, Catholic and Protestant – really prevent us from being truly human. They keep us from loving precisely what God loves – humanity.
God has become one of us, shared our human nature and ordinary experience. That is the great message of Christmas; to deny it, to turn the Incarnation into a sham is the great temptation presented to Jesus. That Jesus affirmed his solidarity with each of us suggests the great challenge awaiting us this Lent; that we will affirm and cherish the human dignity of every person for God has taken on our shared humanity.