Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lenten Sunday 1

The second reading this Sunday may have originated in the early church’s instruction for Baptism. Baptism was then, as it is now, a moment of birth, widening the circle of the family or the church. Those who were once orphans or estranged are now legitimately at home.

As Paul wrote: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same God is God of all.” Paul has already written an expanded form of this statement in his letter to the Galatians:

All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)

The new family life, which we celebrate in Lent, cannot tolerate pride or exclusiveness. “You are all one (family) in Christ Jesus.”

A family of strong unity and love holds everything in common. Whatever is mine is yours! Such is the bond reflected in another liturgical ceremony, described in the first reading from Deuteronomy. While offering the first fruits of the land to God, some of the food is consumed by fire on the altar to signify that everything comes from God and returns to God, some is given to the priest to support his family, the major part returns to the offerer for a family banquet. The head of the household is told to invite the Levite and the aliens who live among you, that together you may “make merry over all these good things which God has given you.”

The family life which God is holding up for our admiration and imitation this Lent has no trace of selfishness or greed. The Levites who had no property in Israel and the aliens who possessed no legal rights shared equally in the family merriment.

These ideals are not easily attained. Family and its outreach of new life do not simply happen. We must work at it against difficulties and temptations.

Jesus too was tempted, a fact reiterated in the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:13). The gospel pulls aside the veil from this mysterious aspect of Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel accentuates two aspects: Jesus’ submission to the Holy Spirit, just received in his baptism (Luke 4:21-22), and Jesus’ serious temptation by the devil.

It seems that the more delicately we are attuned to the Spirit of generosity and gentleness (these are among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23), the more we are tempted to be greedy, turning stones into a desert covered with bread, to exert selfish control over every part of our petty kingdom, to make a god out of each desire.

Lent casts out from the family of new life the demons of pride, greed and selfishness.

This reflection was written by Rev. Carroll Stuhlmueller, Scripture scholar and author. It is taken from New Life: Lent 1989, published by Pax Christi USA.