Dry Bones or Live Bones?

5th Sunday Lent A, 4-2-17; Ezekiel 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Dry Bones or Live Bones??

Our readings today are very complex. It’s easy to be left wondering exactly what the writers are trying to tell us.  Let’s start with Ezekiel.  As I hope you remember, one of the pivotal events in the ancient nation of Israel’s history was being overrun by the military giant, Babylon. Babylon exiled the leaders of defeated nations to another country and then brought in other exiles to populate that nation; the goal was to break down the social structure and the culture.  So the upper-class Israelites were taken to Babylon and people from neighboring countries occupied Israel.  The peasants were left, abandoned.

Ezekiel was the first prophet of Israel who became a prophet while outside the Holy Land.  He received his call in Babylon, and one of his first duties was to tell the exiles that their Temple had been completely destroyed, for many of them had believed it could never happen.  Then his job was to encourage the exiles by giving them a Utopian vision of the Israel of the future.  He gave the exiles a vision of restoration to prepare them to return home and begin the job of rebuilding.  But the vision is more than just restoration.  It is a vision of resurrection of the dead – the totally and finally dead; a vision which begins with piles of dried out bones.  I’m sure you’ve heard the story.  Ezekiel says, “Dry bones: hear the Word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord, ‘I will bring spirit into you, that you will come to life.’”  And the bones came together with sinews and flesh and skin, and God gave them breathe, and spirit came into them and they came alive.

Then God explained to Ezekiel, “These bones are Israel. The people say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’” The imagery is used to describe the restoration of the people that will come about they return from exile. The imagery of resurrection describes God’s revival of his covenant people and the renewal of their relationship with him. What had died is now alive. This vision proclaimed that the fullness of their life, as a people, was this: knowing the saving power of God in that covenant relationship.

From the Christian prospective, the nation of Israel was indeed rebuilt, but the war dead did not come to life again.  The people who returned were given the strength and desire to restore their nation, and there was an extended time of peace in the land.  But resurrection did not come until the Messiah, Jesus, appeared.

It is exactly that resurrection that is the confusion in our reading from the Gospel of John.   At the start of the story of Lazarus, Jesus is aware of Lazarus’ illness.  Jesus’ response to the disciples’ concern is that Lazarus will not die, but the illness was for the glory of God, and that the Son of God may be glorified through it.   There is confusion for the disciples between spiritual death and physical death.  Yet Jesus deliberately waits, even though he was only two miles away.

John’s community also felt that somehow, Jesus was deliberately waiting, delaying his return to earth. They were tired of hoping he was might arrive at any time.  At first it was believed that the 2nd coming of Christ would occur shortly after Jesus’ resurrection.  Christians expected to live to see him return.  But people in the early church, specifically John’s community, were dying. There was a growing scandal and disappointment of the people, leading to doubts and loss of faith/ spiritual death.

Then the disciples are confused again; they misunderstand the word “sleep”. Finally Jesus tells them clearly: Lazarus has died.  For the 3rd time, the disciples are confused.  They think they all will die if they return to Judea, where there had been threats of stoning Jesus.

John’s community was feeling threatened by persecution.

When Jesus arrives, Martha, like John’s community, clearly wants to ask, “Why weren’t you here?  Why didn’t you come sooner?”  But she only gently says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  Martha understands and makes her confession of faith, as we do even to this day at Christian funerals.

Mary greets Jesus boldly: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Then she burst into tears, along with the others around her.  Jesus himself began to weep, but likely in frustration more than sorrow, because there were those there who were openly critical. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”

John might have taken this angry and frustrated quote from members of his community as they gathered for the burial of a beloved believer.

Martha protests at the opening of the tomb, and Jesus must remind her: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” As He calls Lazarus out of the tomb, John writes, “Now many who had seen what he had done began to believe in him.”

No doubt John was also praying that hearing the story of Lazarus will increase and solidify the belief and faith of his community some 60 years or so later.

This event is in the Gospel of John as the last of the miracles that Jesus did. It was the crowning glory of the many “signs” recorded by John.  It is the miracle that must be remembered and reread every time death seems to still be in charge.  Mature faith enables a believer to face physical death knowing that eternal life is not just a promise of resurrection, but is also a present and continuing participation in the life of the ever-living Jesus.

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, the last Passover was near, as was the crucifixion. What better time to be reminded of the power and glory of God than when we face a major trial, a time of crisis and suffering?  Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and I hope you will be able to participate in the Holy Week services.  These days are a time to acknowledge the suffering that is a part of life and the cruelty that is part of people.  But acknowledging those things also make us better able to believe the truth of God’s love and majesty and power, and the joy of the resurrection enables us to hold strong in the faith.

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Homily, April 2, 2017. the 5th Sunday of Lent

5lentToday’s first and third readings bring up the idea of Resurrection or rising from the dead. In Ezekiel, we see the “Dry Bones” passage maybe best known from the song “dem bones goin’ to rise again”. Ezekiel is not addressing resurrection directly, but is addressing a people captured and enslaved and dragged off to Babylon. The prophet was reminding the people that God had not abandoned them and would restore them and bring them home. From lost hope, God will give them a new life.

5lent4In the Gospel, we see Jesus is in no hurry to run to Lazarus’ side when he hears he is sick. Instead he waits three or four days until he travels to Bethany. At this time, he knows Lazarus is dead, yet he knows what he is about to do. In the middle east, Israel included, it is the custom to bury someone immediately after they die, usually before sundown. Obviously, the climate and the lack of embalming and other means of preparation of the body makes this a bit of a necessity. It was a culture, where family and friends prepared the grave and carried the person out and buried them. The reality of death to them was stark and harsh. Even for us today, death is a hard and stark reality even if we in some ways deal with it in a much different manner. With death there is a finality that all 5lent2people must confront. As Christians we see it in light of Jesus. In John’s gospel, we have seen Jesus raise a little girl, a widow’s son, and today Lazarus. The little girl had just succumbed, the widow’s son was being carried to his grave, and Lazarus was four days in his grave. Here are three instances of the dead coming back to life. Such a happening had reverberations in Jesus time, but surely raises the question of what is death, what happens after 5lent 3death even today in our time. We know Jesus said we will live forever, but what could this mean. It is not something easily answered or even understood, and only truly know by faith.

Faith tells us God is love, and that love embraces and lifts us all up. As we are joined to him in life through his spirit and his love, that union and joining is one that continues through life, passing us through that passage of death into the love-filled life of eternity. The raising of Lazarus was an important act before Jesus’ own death and resurrection to point out his power over life and death. Our lesson is to see that God’s love is always with us and even in sorrow and loss, he is there. Life as well as love itself continues in some way we will only know when we experience it ourselves.

The Man Formerly Known as “Blind”

Lent 4th Sunday A 3-26-17; 1 Sam16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ps: 23: 1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14;  John 9:1-41

The Man Formerly Known as “Blind”

I don’t have any hard facts for what I am going to tell you. Don’t complain later I am gave you fake news; this is just a theory of mine:  I think maybe God gets more frantic prayers (from adults) during tax season than any other time of year, like the ones from my house over the last few weeks.  My brother’s a tax wiz – he didn’t know the answer to my tax question.  The lady at the bank had a CPA friend.  He didn’t know.  I asked lots of people.  Then Monday night, my daughter-in-law, I love that girl, emailed a friend who knew a guy who might know.  Tuesday I had my miracle.  I had the right answer from a man who ran a tax office – and he had the software for the form.  My taxes are done – and filed….and I didn’t have to pay anything.  God is good.

Now, a year ago I might have said that my tax miracle ranked right up there with the miracle healing of the blind man in today’s Gospel. After nearly going blind in my right eye and having the “opportunity” to consider being blind, for real, I can tell you that blindness is several levels above taxes.  But frankly, the blindness of the men called “Pharisees” in this Gospel scares me more than either taxes or loss of eyesight.

I’ve always wanted to think I was a child of Lake Woebegon.  According to Garrison Keillor, all the children of Lake Woebegon were above average.  (All the women there were beautiful, too.)  But I have had some difficulty finding hard facts about being above average.   So I worry about convincing myself that things are true, when they’re not true.  These Pharisees have something very special and exciting right in front of them, but they vehemently deny it.  They verbally assault the man formerly known as “Blind”, whose value was reduced solely to his visual acuity.  They threw him out of temple, which is a very big deal, since the Jerusalem temple was the only place in the world, according to their rules at the time, where God lived & a Jew could make sacrifices to God and worship as required by the Hebrew Scriptures.

Usually I talk about Jesus being the light of the world, and what it means to be a light in this world. I talk about not assuming that bad things only happen to bad people.  I talk about the symbolism and the culture that would have understood the clay and saliva thing.  I talk about fearing Pharisees.  I talk about how Jesus returned to tell “formerly Blind” that he was the Messiah, and that he believed and worshiped Jesus.

The Pharisees had powerful motivation for not acknowledging the miracle of the healing of blindness. They were the guys with the answers to all questions.  Their job was the Hebrew Law, and they spent their days quibbling over fine points of the Law.   Their job was to be right, to be smarter than others.  It was their life.  They were supposed to be walking, talking Mr. Right-all-the-Time.  That meant they were in charge and got to make the decisions and call the shots.  It felt good, like a lot of power, a place of authority, and a way to control little people like Mr. and Mrs. Who-Must-have-Sinned-Because-their-Son-is-Just-a-Blind-Beggar.

Jesus must have annoyed the Pharisees a lot.   They wanted to nail him on the “working on the Sabbath” charge and shame him and put him out of the Temple too, and end that irritating habit he had of asking those questions they couldn’t answer.  Equally was annoying was the fact that the uneducated, ragged, beggar “formerly Blind” said in front of everyone that they were wrong – and they hadn’t been able to respond to him.

But today I only want to focus on the last 3 sentences of our reading. “Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see – might see; and those who do see – might become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees… said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see’ so your sin remains.” I know, on every level, which side of that I want to be on.

Jesus offers forgiveness, but no one escapes judgment. At some point, in some way, we must face being wrong, of grasping power and authority which we have no right to.  We have to confess our part in keeping this unjust society rolling along, and the times our wants win over someone else’s need.  Our clothes are cheap because the people who made them live in cardboard huts.  Our chocolate is good, because it’s harvested by children who are only paid with a meal for a hard, long day’s work.  Our breakfast eggs are the result of chickens fed chemicals and raised in cages so crowded they cannot walk, and so on.  We know this but take great pains not to see too much.

I learned one thing in 7th grade Social Studies, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”  That day I understood that I was ignorant, and it could be my downfall, not my salvation.  Now it’s almost impossible to be blind to the conditions in refugee camps and for Syrians trapped in the war there.  Do these things lead us to choosing blindness, or do they open our eyes?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” but he shines his light everywhere, even the places we don’t want to see. My experience volunteering in a sub-standard nursing home where abuse and neglect were rampant taught me that there are a lot of Pharisee-types around, well-funded and backed by heavy handed legal departments.  Since I was barred from that Nursing home for filing complaints about patient care with the State Ombudsman office, the State of Maryland Attorney General has filed cases against some of the tactics used in that nursing home.   He had eyes to see.  There are forces working for good.  But Jesus acted so purposefully that I think he meant us to act too, not just see, and our action, regardless of short-term success in bringing social change, frees us from our blindness.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

3rd Sunday Lent, 3-19-17

Exodus 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Our first reading – is so much like the society we live in; I read it and I think about shopping malls and huge department stores full of children demanding every thing that catches their eye. Just two chapters before, God had opened the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk thru on dry land and the Egyptian army, which was pursuing them, was destroyed.  The Israelites had their freedom after generations in slavery.  Then in the next chapter, the people had become discouraged in the desert and feared they would be without food.  God provided them with quail for meat and manna for bread, as much as they needed.  Now there is an uprising because of the scarcity of water; the people are full of anger and rebellion, and Moses fears they will kill him by stoning, the death reserved for someone who has sinned against the community.

But I don’t find it amazing the people were full of blame and empty of faith in the face of all their blessings. What I find amazing is that God doesn’t sweep them all into a garbage bag and start over with a new nation.  Sorry, I know that was a Grinch-like, heart-two-sizes-too-small thing to say.

But Moses nearly worked himself into a nervous breakdown over freeing these people, and there is no hint that the faintest idea of thanking him ever crossed the people’s minds. We would say he was “between a rock and a hard place”, and a miracle of God was the only thing that saved him.  No wonder we see deserts as places of trial, temptation, hardship – and we see water as life-giving, cleansing, refreshing, freeing, forgiveness.

By the time our Psalm was written, someone had figured this out. Our Psalmist says, “For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides; let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.” But notice that the Psalmist uses the image of a “rock.”  Moses had feared that rocks would be hurled at him by an unruly mob and he would be killed.  Then rock had been a geo-physical thing in the desert, used by God for the miracle of water, almost an image of grace.  Now the Psalmist speaks of God as the “Rock” – an image of steadiness, reliability, permanence, dependability, an instrument of safety, certainty, and protection.  Being between a rock and a hard place is all right – if God is your rock.

St Paul backs up the image of the Psalmist. He says, that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Paul had been a “Grinch” of a guy before he encountered the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus.  Now, he deeply believed, even as he waited on death row to be martyred, that God’s love, the rock of his salvation, would bring him to eternal life regardless of the most difficult “hard place” one can imagine.

And then we read John’s account of “the woman at the well.” I have a confession to make about this woman.  At first, when I read about her, I liked her even less than the rebellious Israelites in the desert.  She comes alone to the well, not with the other women, as she should have; she spoke to Jesus, as she shouldn’t have.  She’s pretty bold, even hard in her responses, saying, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” She’s not ashamed of immoral behavior, but blunt and in-his-face about where the Samaritan’s place of worship.  Given a little attitude in her voice when she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming…he will tell us everything”, her response is rock-hard, rude.  No wonder she was alone and shunned by the community.  No wonder the women had decided this woman was beyond their help, a lost cause, evil.  She seems to have chosen the hard place she’s in, determined to deflect any attempt to help her with stony bitterness.

Then a miracle happens that makes Moses and his staff hitting the rock look simple. All Jesus says to this woman is, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”  These few words accomplish in seconds what it took 40 years to accomplish with the Israelites.  She not only took to heart what he said, but she was quick to abandon her water jug, having accepted the living water.  She told the others with such intensity and certainty that they believed her and come to Jesus themselves, saying, “We know that this is the savior of the world!!”

Perhaps the woman would have done well in our society, been a great corporate CEO with her edgy repartee, blunt questions, and boldness in sorting out a situation. Perhaps the rigid limits on women in that society, reflected in my own negative initial assessment of her, contributed to her outcast status.

Maybe the love that Jesus felt for all God’s lost children was enough to dissolve the stony fortress this woman had constructed around herself.  Maybe it was a miracle healing; the living water of the Spirit broke open her rocky heart and that water power-cleaned her soul.  I don’t know what happened.  She was like a forgotten potted plan, wilted and dying, suddenly transplanted near a running stream of water, becoming a strong, food-yielding tree.

I do think some conclusions to these readings are warranted. I have 4 to offer:

  1. God loves us, despite how badly we behave. God gives us freedom from oppression long before we learn how to live freely. We need to look to God for ways to get out of our hard places.  Love can provide enormous freedom.   Status quo and expectations can be jails.
  2. God is the faithful one. Us – not so much. But God is good and provides for us.  God created a world that gives us water and food and shelter and all we need, if we look.  God gives us good people to pray for us, who lead us in God’s ways, if we listen.
  3. The Psalms are full of wisdom. We need to give thanks, we need to worship, and we need to recognize we are God’s people. We need to make sure our hearts don’t get rocky.
  4. People are not always what they appear to be. Society is not always just. Outcasts are loved by God and sometimes used to wake the rest of us up.  All of us need a brain-flush on occasion with some living water of repentance and renewal.  Lent can happen at any time.

 

 

Just Two Sentences

Paul’s death row letter to Timothy tells us how to face hard times for the sake of the Gospel.

2nd Sunday Lent A, 3-12-17, Genesis 12:1-4a; Ps: 33:4-5, 18-20, 22;  2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9

We have a pivotal turning point in our first reading. It is the beginning of the story of Abraham.  It is the point in Genesis where the creation story ends and the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all start.  It is the birthplace of so much – a place where a scholar could do their life’s work.  But today we’ll pass it by.  Our Gospel reading is a high point of Matthew’s revelation of the divinity of Christ, just after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  It is a mountain-top experience in every sense.  But today we’ll pass it by.  I love the 33rd Psalm, but today we’ll pass it by.  For what?  For two sentences from a short letter to Timothy, which we only read once every three years, and often ignore.

So, are you thinking, “Did they nick her brain during the eye surgery?” Or hopefully, “Who was Timothy, why did St. Paul send him a letter, what’s it got to do with Lent?”

All good questions! Timothy was a young man, the product of a mixed marriage.  His grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, were Christians.  His father, who goes unnamed, apparently was not.  Timothy was steeped in the Good News since birth.   He traveled for some 15 years as Paul’s traveling companion throughout Asia and Greece, the entire distance of Paul’s 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys, as well as special trips to Jerusalem.   He was with Paul in Rome when Paul was first in prison.  Then he had been “ordained” by Paul and left in charge of the church in the Greek city of Ephesus.  In short, Timothy, like Paul, had given his life, his time, his money, his efforts, and even his safety to spread the Good News of the Risen Christ – as Paul’s helper.

Paul suggests that Timothy was sometimes dismissed as just a young kid who didn’t know much (Paul writes him, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness”); and that Timothy was a little overwhelmed sometimes ( Paul tells him to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”).   I will never forget the first time I really studied the journeys of Paul and Timothy, as described in the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles.  Without exaggeration, I can tell you it was truly amazing, thrilling, scary, and at times I cried.  You might decide to study it yourself. I can help.

Well, let’s take a look at those two sentences we have today. I have to tell you that Paul would have failed any English class writing assignment I’ve ever encountered.  His sentences stretch to the moon and back, and frankly, that’s one of the reasons you seldom hear homilies from the 2nd readings.  What your missal has as two sentences really is one big train-wreck of a sentence.  I made 10 complex-enough sentences out of it in attempt to make it understandable.

First sentence –Paul is saying to Timothy: “Don’t despair in the hard times and don’t give up. Continue to share with me, to join me in the suffering we have done for the sake of spreading the gospel. We do it all through the power of God.”  Paul continues with second sentence, “Remember, it is God who has saved us. God called us to proclaim the gospel.  God called us with a Holy Calling.  It was not because we did such great works, but it was according to God’s own purpose, God’s plan for the world.  God lavishly gave us the grace to do it…grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus since before the beginning of time.  God’s grace now is personified in Jesus, who destroyed death.  Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”  Two amazing sentences.

Scholars pretty much agree that this letter was the product of time Paul spent waiting in prison, waiting to be put to death in Rome.   The end of his letter tells us Paul knows his end is very near.  This is a death-row letter, looking back at his life as the big picture, the final summary.  And his life had been interwoven with Timothy for many important years.  And with the oppression of Christianity probably near its height, Paul is wondering what will happen to those Christian communities he established and nurtured and prayed for.  Will anything he worked for, literally would give his life for, survive?  It is a letter that could have wilted into self-pity and despair, except for the faith behind it.  Paul tells Timothy “God has not given us a spirit of being timid, but of power and love and discipline.”  He writes, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that Christ is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.”  Finally, Paul advises, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

This is beginning to sound like Lent, ah? When you give your all and it all seems to be going down the drain.  When you are discouraged, and your friends and family are no where to be found.  When you have to decide to speak up or shut up.  When you are certain of your values, and feel alone.  When you look into the future and you see the end.

Paul wrote, “Know the strength to bear the hardship comes from God.” God didn’t choose us because we could win our battles single-handedly, but we were called to do what was right and true and just, to be holy and part of God’s kingdom.  Christ Jesus has already won the battle – abolished death, opened the way to eternity, shined the light to show the way home.  Guard the truth in your soul, like Abraham and King David and Paul and Timothy, and our Lord Jesus.  Lent is a time to settle firmly into the unshakeable rock of faith.

Grasphing the Gracious Gift

1st Sunday Lent A,  3-5-17; Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 ;  Ps: 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11

 Grasping the Gracious Gift   

This reading from the second & third chapters of Genesis always makes me sad. It is likely one of the most used and abused, most misinterpreted passages in the Bible.  It has been used to prove that women should be oppressed, that men are spineless wimps, that God’s creation is faulty, and that both humans and snakes are inherently evil – when that was never the intention of the story.

What was the intent? It’s a beautiful creation story and by far more sophisticated in its vision than anything comparable found in the ancient world.    It is older than the story we find in Genesis chapter one, and shares themes with other creation myths in the Mesopotamian region.  And just in case you feel the need to explore your Bible a little more closely, check out the creation story in the book of Ezekiel chapter 28 that you’ve probably never heard.

But there are two things we really need to pay attention to here. First – the eternal question of evil.  God in chapter one is said to create a good world.  God is pleased with it.  When you read Proverbs chapters 3-8, you find this theme again and again.  So, where did the cunning of the serpent come from, and why did it lie to Eve?  Interesting question, but that’s not really what we need to know, so I ask the 2nd question, and that is- what was Eve’s reason for making the choice of listening to the serpent’s lies?  The text tells us, “the tree was… desirable for gaining wisdom.”  The serpent had said, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods (little “g”) who know what is good and what is evil.” Sometimes I wonder if the story suggests that in Eve’s ears, she heard that she would be like “GOD”?

So what was humanity’s relationship to God when they were created? God had created humankind, and blew the breath of life into man.  God gave mankind the power of naming the animals, and thereby giving man power over animals.  God gave these humans the very best of everything.  In chapter one, the creation of humans is the climax of creation, the grandest and greatest of creation, actually in the divine image.  We are not God, but we are a reflection of God.

And somehow Eve thought that the glory of God, the wisdom and knowledge of God was something she and Adam could grasp by eating a piece of fruit. It is a concept still pitched by marketing snakes.  Buy this car, and you will look rich and powerful and women will be attracted to you.  Drink this diet soda and your body will be sleek and desirable.  Take this drug and your sports performance will be Olympic.  It’s the same old lie.  And why do we still fall for it?  Because we want to grasp the goal without developing the grit.

What does scripture say? Look at Philippians 2: 5-11:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Which is why in Psalm 51 David doesn’t say to God, “The devil made me do it.” Instead he claims his evil choice of taking another man’s wife and having her husband killed.  David admits his desire to be all-powerful (like God) is wrong, too great to be grasped.  He asks instead for the “joy of (God’s) salvation” – a joy which God, and only God, freely gives to those who empty themselves of the pride of power, the need to control that which they did not create, the desire and greed for that which was not theirs to grasp.

St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reassures us there is a way out of our folly. He teaches that although these impulses of pride and control and desire haunt us, “how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift- of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for (us).”  What was the gracious gift?  It was his good and selfish choice of being obedient and coming to us as a humble man to face and overcome our murderous actions – actions which grow out of pride and power and control and desire.

Of course, Jesus was never one to simply tell us how to live and walk away, shaking his head at our endless repetition of the same bad decisions. He demonstrates it for us, he lives the trials; he shows us success and gives us solutions.  Our reading from Matthew is only one example of that.  He is tempted at his most vulnerable, when he was near starvation, when he saw power at hand and close enough to reach for, when he was shown glory and fame in its most magnificent and attractive forms.

Shucks, I hear the word “temptation” and I think of double chocolate cake with Breyer’s mint ice cream with chocolate chunks in it. But the solution is still the same- obedience.  Trying to grasp the joy of the stomach or the joy of ego or the joy of stuff never really works, only the freely given joy of the soul lasts beyond the end of the day.

This time of Lent is when we re-set our moral compasses, when we hold out our intentions in the cold light of day and ask if we act with justice and love. We look at those things we do without thinking the rest of the year and consider the fruit of our actions.  What do we seek to grasp, what do we reach out for?