Monday, February 22, 2010

1st Sunday in Lent (C)
Plugging into the Power

Picture: cc zsrlibrary 

Dear sisters and brothers, do you ever go to coffee shops? You know, places like Peet’s or Starbucks or The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, places like that? What do people do there? Sounds like a stupid question, right? What else would people do at a coffee shop except drink coffee! But as those of us who frequent such places know quite well, coffee is not the only thing – in fact, it may not even be the main thing – that draws people to such places. When we enter a coffee shop and look around carefully, we find that, in addition to the drinks and snacks, people are there for other things besides. People go there to look at the newspapers, to read a book, to chat with friends, or simply to see and be seen. And, especially in a university town like ours, we also find many people there with their laptops and textbooks… studying. Do you ever study at a coffee shop?

Studying at a coffee shop has the advantage of getting you out of the house. It gives you the feeling of being around other people, even as you catch up on work. Which can be fun. But, if you’ve tried it, you’d probably agree that it can also be dangerous too. It’s so easy to forget the real reason why you’re there. If you’re with friends, it’s tempting to start chatting with them. But even if you’re alone, it’s so easy to get distracted, to start daydreaming. Or stealing glances at what your neighbor is reading. Or eavesdropping on that juicy conversation that’s going on behind you. Especially when you’re tired, when your cup of coffee is almost empty, it’s so easy to forget why you’re there. At times like these, what you need is a break. You need to refill your cup. But you also need to remind yourself that you’re not there just for the coffee. You need something like what every laptop computer needs after being left on for some time. You need to plug into a power point. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting your time and not get any studying done.

Wasting your time without getting anything done. Didn’t Jesus also face a similar danger in his day? As we know, Jesus was sent into our world for a very specific purpose. And it wasn’t just for the coffee. He came to be the light that would brighten our darkness. He came to teach us the meaning of love, to show us the way to life, to set us on the path to true happiness. But like someone trying to study in a coffee shop, throughout his public ministry, Jesus had to face many distractions, different temptations to turn away from his true purpose. In today’s gospel, we find three types of temptations that Jesus had to face.

The first temptation has to do with method. How do you get people to listen to you so that you can help them? By giving them what they want, says the devil. By performing the sensational so as to gain popularity. By turning stones into bread. It’s not such a far-fetched idea. It’s not that much different from when someone asks you to write a term paper for him/ her – to turn the stone of his/ her laziness and ignorance into the bread of a good grade. Do you give the person what s/he wants? No, says Jesus. You give them what they need. And far more than a good grade, people need to learn diligence and honesty and integrity. As Jesus tells the devil: One does not live on bread alone.

The second temptation has to do with motivation. Why should you go out of your way to do the things that you do, to work and study as hard as you do, to take the time and effort to help out in church, or to reach out to those who need your help? For the sake of power and glory, says the devil. So that you can be have the money to buy whatever you want, and the power to do whatever you like. But Jesus says no. Doing that would mean worshiping the devil. Instead, God alone must be our motivation, the center of our existence. You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.

The third temptation has to do with mood. We all believe in God’s love and care for us. Well, then, why bother being careful and prudent in what we do and the company we keep? Why worry about the kinds of places we frequent, or the influences with which we surround ourselves? It doesn’t matter if our friends drink and do drugs. After all, God will protect us, right? Yes, says the devil. But Jesus says no. To have this kind of attitude, this kind of mood, would be like someone who is arrogant enough to jump from the top of a temple, relying only on God to catch him or her. But what Jesus preaches and practices is not arrogance but humility. We are to be mindful of our own weakness and fragility, even as we place our trust in God. You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

Method, motivation and mood: in these three areas, Jesus faced very subtle forms of temptation. And yet, he found the wisdom and the strength to overcome them. How was he able to do this? We find the answer in the very first sentence of today’s gospel, where we are told that, before being led into the desert, Jesus returned from his baptism in the Jordan, filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus was able to overcome temptation because he was continually plugged into the power of God.

And isn’t Jesus’ experience also meant to mirror our own? Like Jesus, we too have been baptized and sent into the world for a very specific purpose: to be the light of the world and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13,14). But, like students in a coffee shop, it’s so easy to get distracted, isn’t it? It’s so easy to just go along with what everyone else is doing, to forget the real reason why we’re here. Which is why, like Jesus, we need to ensure that we remain plugged into the power of God. Isn’t this what this great season of Lent is all about? Especially during this time, we do what it takes to remain plugged in. And our first and second readings help us by showing us two ways in which we can do this.

The first reading speaks of a time after a good harvest. When everything has gone well, Moses tells the people that they are to take the first fruits of the harvest and make of them an offering to the Lord. And as they do this, they are to recall something important. They are to recall the goodness that God has shown to them, especially in freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Then, in the second reading, Paul reminds the Romans of how close God is to them: the word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart. And, since God is so close, they should not be afraid to call – to call upon God for help in times of trial. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Sisters and brothers, here at this Mass, on this first Sunday in Lent, we are doing the very things that Moses and Paul advised. We are recalling the goodness that God has shown us in Jesus Christ, and we are calling upon him to help us in our temptations. By recalling God’s goodness and by calling upon God’s love, we allow ourselves to remain plugged into the power of God, so that we can better fulfill our mission as baptized daughters and sons of a loving Father.

Sisters and brothers, the coffee shop of life can be fun and exciting. But it can also be very draining and distracting.

Are you plugged in yet?