First Sunday of Lent (A)
March 11, 2011

Everything happens for a purpose. Everything takes place for a reason. The Spirit, we are told today, “led Jesus to the desert to be tempted by the devil.” It was in the desert where Jesus was tempted, the very place where Jesus set out to do something good, the place where he fasted and prayed.

I guess this is what I want to emphasize today … behind every dark and menacing cloud lies a silver lining. Behind every temptation lies a potential triumph of grace, of freedom, and will power. The desert trap did not end up a pointless death trap, but the Lord trumped it and made it into a triumphant victory of grace and freedom.

Not one of my readers, least of all myself, can lay claim to not being, or not having been bothered by temptation. I know I am. Repeatedly. Daily. Constantly. I know this from personal experience. I know it, too, by vicarious experience. 29 years being a priest and 29 years being privy to the inner worlds of people have taught me, among many others one simple truth. We “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” We are all in this struggle together. We are all being led by God towards grace and salvation, but the way to it is fraught with a lot of traps, challenges, and obstacles. More than 2,000 years after John the Baptist came to fill up potholes and level mountains, the truth of our finite human condition still remains … We need to struggle. We need to work hard, and we need to do as Jesus did … battle with temptations big or small.

In my non-Biblical scholarly mind, I guess this is what it all means to us.
The Spirit “led” him to the desert to be tempted by the devil, for one simple purpose … to teach us the ropes, to show us the way, to make us learn that life is not in itself a bed of roses, and that the eternal life to which He calls us cannot be had for a trifle, but that it needs to be won through gallantry, courage, and a firm decision of the will.

The temptations we face are not quite like the “big ticket” items that Jesus faced. But the temptations we do face are not any less real, and any less deadly, spiritually speaking.

The temptations we face may not get anywhere near the 700 million pesos that certain former military men in the Philippines made easy money of, but they are not any less sinful when succumbed to, and not any less life disabling when fallen into.

The temptations we face are “small ticket” items, so to say, but collectively, they lead to the same far-ranging consequences. They lead to death. They lead to dysfunctionality. They lead to the collective disease that eventually kill our nation’s soul slowly, but surely.

I speak about “small ticket items” like cursing, using the name of the Lord God in vain. They don’t cause a stir anymore. They don’t scandalize anyone anymore. But they are, albeit remotely, connected to the same temptation faced by the Lord, to exchange the real God for the fake one, and worship the devil and prostrate before him.

I speak about small ticket items like saying “I don’t care anymore what happens!” “I have no control over anything in the world.” “Just let the bad guys do what they want.” “Just let corruption go unabated.” “Just allow the politicians to destroy this country… What do I care?” But this is nothing different from the Lord being tempted to just throw himself down from the parapet of the temple, to give up self-responsibility and allow things to take their own course.

I speak about seemingly insignificant items like stuffing oneself sick each and every single day … eating unhealthy food on a consistent basis … throwing all caution to the winds saying “after all, there are medicines to counteract everything later,” and so on. But all this is not any different from the Lord being tempted to “turn stones into bread.”

Let us face it. We lust for greed, as much as do for sex. But we also salivate for power, for attention, for our five minutes of fame – if not – notoriety. And since we do, we are willing to do a thousand and one little “small ticket items” in order to get what we want. We fib here and there and everywhere. We lie and deny to death, much like the people being investigated on national TV, who open their mouth when things go to their advantage, but who clam up like the proverbial giant clams, when things are getting to be disadvantageous to them.

We do a million and a half little things to get ahead, to get noticed, and get promoted. And we can even step on other people’s toes just to save our own skin, or gossip about others, to make us feel better about ourselves. By subtle innuendoes, by our well-timed silences, and through double-entendres, we can destroy other people’s reputation in one fell swoop, like big media networks do when they want to destroy their enemies, by subjecting them to trial by publicity!

No … we don’t see anyone trying to convince us to turn stones into bread very literally. But last thing I heard is, we can turn into very successful businessmen, after a few years of service in the military or the government – or, why not? – service to the Church? We see very ordinary folks from very ordinary and simple families, who end up having ten houses in the United States, after being comptroller for four short, but fruitful years!

No …we don’t see anyone trying to make us jump from the Stock Exchange building. But we do see people jumping to conclusions on the basis of the latest gossip they heard. We see ourselves falling for what the TV ads tell us are the best products … for ultimately, we lust for youth. We lust for lasting beauty and youthful form. How else explain the fact that a great percentage of the trash we see clogging our waterways are from “skin whitening products” and wrappers of fast-food products?

Little things, they seem to be … but little things that lead to the same death of the collective soul, of a people gradually being dehumanized by sin, one seemingly insignificant step at a time … one TV show at a time … one small ticket item at a time.

The Lord was led by the Spirit to the desert for a purpose. The Lord leads us today to a similar desert experience for a purpose. And that is not to gorge ourselves on stones turned to bread, nor to throw ourselves with utter abandon to irresponsibility, and least of all to worship fake and ersatz gods in His stead, and run around sewing fig leaves for utter shame at what we did. He leads us to life. And this, we can do, ironically, by following the examples of the Lord who stood his ground, and came out victorious through fasting and prayer!


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