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First Sunday of Lent

Scriptural Readings: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

My dear encountered couples:

Jesus was tempted. So are we. Every day. Many times a day. In many different ways. Jesus gave into temptation. So should we!

Did I get your attention? I hope I did. And you heard me correctly. Jesus, as we are also, was tempted. And he gave into temptation. But the temptations he gave into were not exactly of the brand you might have in mind. The temptations Jesus gave into were those that God put in his path; they were not those of the devil nor of the world of selfishness.

Jesus was tempted by the goodness, the patience, the love of God which he experienced every day of his life. Jesus was one who noticed many things that we might not find time to notice, that we might no longer see, that we take for granted. Jesus noticed the sunshine, the trees, the flowers, the animals, the butterflies. He noticed the smell of freshly cooked bread, the taste of the food prepared by his mother, the coolness of the water from the well, and the warmth of a little fire on a cold, winter night.

“Where did all this come from?” he often asked. Joseph and Mary would tell him. “From God our Father in heaven.” Very early in his life the thoughts of Jesus were lifted from all these good and wonderful things to that wonderful One who gives them to us.

Jesus was very attentive to what people said and noticed what they did. He sensed a lot of goodness in them, even when it wasn’t too apparent. “Where did they get their goodness?” he would ask. “From God our Father in heaven,” his parents would reply. Very early in life he learned that God shares his goodness with us.

But Jesus didn’t go around with a sack on his head. He wasn’t blind to unpleasant things around him. He lived in one of the poorest towns of Israel. The people of Nazareth did not have life easy. They had to work hard for their living. Even Jesus had to begin working at a very early age to help his foster father Joseph in the carpentry shop. They often had to live on what they made from day to day; we call it paycheck to paycheck.

Jesus was familiar with sickness. He saw disabled people, people who could not see or talk or walk, or think very well. He knew people died. Attended many hometown funerals, even of his own relatives and friends. He knew the innocent suffered. After all, his own parents had to take him to Egypt when he was very young because of some old, jealous king who would even kill children to hold on to his power.

Jesus saw birds lying dead on the ground, sheep killed by wolves, flowers whither and die. He saw both people and animals without any home. And he asked his parents “Why?”

“Because Son,” they told him, people don’t always appreciate the good things in their lives. They don’t always look for the One who gives it to them. Instead, they are dissatisfied; they want more, a lot more. Nothing wrong with wanting more, with wanting life better, but many people go after it in the wrong way and in the wrong places.

They try to satisfy themselves at the expense of others. No matter who they hurt, whether young or old, it seems to matter little to them. And, Son -

“They don’t go to God for what they want. They try to get it by themselves without even asking his help, without asking his opinion as to whether it is good for them. Some people have even been known to ask the devil to give them things, or sought out people who are like devils to help them. People who turn their backs on God and use selfish, dishonest ways to get what they want. That’s what causes sickness and suffering and death.”

Joseph and Mary told Jesus that, or something like that. And he believed them. So when temptations came along, if they were not good ones that came from God to draw Jesus closer to Him, Jesus would not even consider them. Not the devil, not the ways of selfish people, nothing that would give him gain while taking away from somebody else. Riches, fame, power — unless these were willed by God for him, Jesus had no use for them. He knew that only what came from God would last. Even when evil appeared to destroy what was good, he knew that God took the good into his care.

Sickness would someday be changed to health, blindness to sight, lameness to wholeness. The dead would enter into a new and better life. Animals would be transported to heaven, nature would be transplanted in God’s yard. No flower would die, no tree cut down that God would not take to himself and care for throughout eternity. No person, no animal, nothing would he forget. All that is good would live safely and happily forever with God.

Our gospel reading today tries to make us aware that Jesus was tempted by evil as we are, not once, not twice, not even only three times. Jesus was tempted by evil every day of his life. But it was the good God put into people and things that tempted and attracted him the most. So much so that he always chose the good and rejected the evil. He knew that good invites more good into the world, while evil only brings more evil — to everyone.

Jesus learned from experience that choices aren’t always easy. And so, he gives us help in making them. Jesus is always with us, his Holy Spirit always in us. God’s wisdom is ours to use so we can tell the difference between good and evil temptations.

We could all benefit during this Lent by noticing more the good things and the good happenings in our lives and realizing they are placed there by God to draw us to himself. And that if we desire more of these good things it is from God, and only from God, that we will ever obtain them. No place else, no one else, unless God is there and within them, can give us what is good and lasting.

Jesus gave into temptations. But to none of those put forth by hell. Jesus gave in to only those temptations placed in his life by his heavenly Father. Let us learn to give into those too. With God’s help, with a lot of practice, with a little bit of luck, you can learn to give right in to all the good temptations that heaven sends your way. Enjoy them, even play around with them, but be sure to take them seriously. God loves you. He is tempting you every day to love him. Give in to those good temptations!

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