Return to God

The WORD in Other Words by Fr Oliver Quilab SVD (Switzerland)

1st Sunday of Lent

On Ash Wednesday we marked the beginning of the great season of Lent which is an annual church retreat spread over forty days to remind us of our humble origins (we are from dust)  and of our total dependence on God. Jesus himself was driven by the Spirit to a 40-day retreat in the desert, harking back to the 40 years of Israel’s desert experience, to prepare himself for his forthcoming mission. In the desert he wrestled with inner demons that could compromise his identity and mission. The three temptations of Jesus were not just passing tests, as we can glean from his life story, but enticements which haunted him all throughout his life even as he was hanging on the cross.

The first (to change stones into bread) and the third (to jump off the top of the Temple) temptations tried to divert Jesus away from his role as the Servant-Messiah to becoming an attention-grabbing, self-serving celebrity. The second temptation (to worship the devil who could bestow power and wealth) tried to pull Jesus away from loving and serving God and His creation – the true purpose of all human flourishing.. He was being lured from ushering in a Kingdom of love and service to controlling an empire of puppets.

We often think of temptations as referring outrightly to romantic-sexual sins –reinforced through jokes and songs in popular media, like “O tukso layuan mo ako” (Temptation, beat it!). We tend to overlook that the temptations to grab power, to amass wealth at all costs and to seek the limelight abound in our society. Why is there so much social injustice in our society? Why are closely-knit families bitterly divided in a mad rush for political power and clout?  Why is there rampant betting in lottery or trading/selling illegal stuff? Why the love for casting shows and beauty pageants?  The really dangerous temptations are the desire for material wealth for its own sake (so I can turn anything into money [‘bread’]), the inordinate desire for status (so everyone looks up to me and envies me), and the lust for power (so I can manipulate people and things for my own ends). These degrade the dignity of human beings and the material world we live in. The lust for wealth, status and power at any cost has created an unjust society of a privileged few and a mass in abject poverty.

The new world that Jesus came to usher in has a different set of values altogether. He envisioned a world of justice, peace and joy in the spirit. This is what the Gospel is about. Lent offers us a time to reflect and re-evaluate the quality and direction of our lives according to the values of God’s Kingdom. A time to re-order our priorities both as Christians and human beings. A time to re-affirm our conviction of the equal dignity of each human person.

Source – The WORD in Other Words, Bible Diary 2020

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