Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion


Introducing Fr. Freddie's Gospel Reflections for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Thirsd Sunday of Lent (A)

Third Sunday of Lent [Jn 4:5-42]
19 March 2017
Jesus’ Encounter with the Samaritan Woman
Readings: (1) Ex 17:3-7 (2) Rom 5:1-2.5-8
  1. Theme in brief:
Quenching our spiritual thirst
  1. Focus Statement:
Jesus quenches our spiritual thirst with his gift of ‘living water’, if we accept him in faith, and humbly ask him to quench that thirst, and admit our sinfulness that prevent its reception.
  1. Explanation of the text
Ironically, today’s gospel text begins with the giver of living water (that is, Jesus) himself feeling thirsty and begging for water from a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well with the words: “Give me a drink” (4:7). John, who has a liking for double meaning of words or statements, hints that Jesus is not only thirsty physically, but also spiritually. He is thirsty for souls and takes the initiative to go in search of a sinner like the Samaritan woman in her concrete life-situation like drawing water at the well. Later on, he sacrifices his life on the cross out of thirst for sinners by saying, “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).
By requesting the Samaritan woman for water and entering into a conversation with her, Jesus crosses three barriers:  (1) of gender, since Jewish rabbis are not allowed to converse with a woman in public; (2) of race, since she belongs to the Samaritan race hated by the Jews; and (3) of associating only with the virtuous, since she was considered to be an immoral character and an outcast.
Here we find a woman who is preoccupied only with material needs like bringing water and housekeeping. She does not give a serious thought to her private life. When she encounters Jesus at the well, three issues block her from recognizing him: (1) Prejudices of the kind, which Samaritans and Jews have against one another. They carry on such a strong racial and religious hatred towards one another that Jews do not accept even water from the hands of Samaritans (4:9). (2) Lack of faith in the giver of these gifts. At first she sees him as a respectable Jewish traveller, a physically wearied and thirsty man, whom she calls “sir” (4:11), and not as the Messiah who can quench her spiritual thirst. (3) Thirdly, her personal sins which she tries to cover up become the greatest obstacle.
To such a person Jesus promises to offer the gift of living water. But, in order to become worthy to receive it, the Samaritan woman has to fulfil three conditions: she must (1) know the gift of God; (2) recognize the one who is speaking; and (3) ask for that water (4:10). She neither knows Jesus’ full identity nor the gifts he wants to offer and their real value. In verse 10 Jesus declares that the one who is speaking to her (that is, he himself) is the gift of God in the first place and the source of living water for a lost sinner like her. But in verse 13, he moves from the present gift to a future gift which will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Later in 7:37-39, John makes it clear that this spring or river of living water is the gift of the Holy Spirit. To receive both these gifts, she must recognize and believe that the One who is speaking to her is not an ordinary “sir” as she addresses him at first (4:11), but the revelation of the Father’s love for sinners like her. She will gradually or stage by stage recognize him not merely as “sir”, but as the “prophet” (4:19) and “Messiah” (4:25-26).
What is that ‘living water’ which Jesus wants to offer? Though the text does not directly explain, it is understood from the context that Jesus means water that gives life. From John’s gospel we know that his concept of ‘life’ always refers to divine or eternal life – a participation in God’s own life through faith in Jesus. Besides this, living water may also symbolize the gifts of God’s unconditional love, supernatural grace and salvation offered to all those who ask for it. True to the common technique of misunderstanding found in John’s gospel, the Samaritan woman thinks that Jesus promises her a miraculously and continuously flowing or running water of a spring or stream as opposed to the stagnant or still water of a well or pool. Hence, she requests him to give that miraculous water always so that she could be spared from all the trouble of coming to this well again to draw water.
At this point, Jesus tells us: “Go, call your husband, and come back” (4:16). Jesus challenges her to look into herself, her private life, and remove another great obstacle to become a recipient of living water, that is, her own personal sins or unfaithfulness to God. Instead of admitting her sinfulness and brokenness, she tries to cover up her guilt, first by denying that she has a husband (4:17), and later on dodging the whole issue of her private life by engaging in a religious debate with Jesus about real worship of God (4:20). Finally, her eyes of faith are opened when Jesus openly admits that “the one who is speaking” to her is the promised Messiah (4:25-26).
  1. Application to life
Probably John the evangelist wants to portray the Samaritan woman as a person who is in darkness of a disoriented life. While she is in that state, she suddenly encounters Jesus in broad daylight (noon time), because he is the Light of the world. Or probably he wants to depict her as a woman who goes to the well to fetch water at noon – a time when nobody else goes. Perhaps he wants to tell us that she is a quite isolated or segregated woman due to her immoral life. Whatever maybe the evangelist’s intention, Jesus’ compassionate approach to her gradually leads her to faith in him as the promised Messiah and the giver of ‘living water,’ that is, supernatural life. Lenten Season is meant for us to realize our alienation from God and neighbours like her due to our sins and brokenness. Now is the fitting time to realize that our ‘water-pot’ (that is, worldly pleasures) and water (that is, material possessions) are not everything. For us who are busy and preoccupied with worldly affairs, business and satisfaction of material needs, Lent is the appropriate time to admit that it is an illusion to think that these things are the be-all and end-all (all that matters) in life.
The empty water-jar carried by the woman symbolizes two things: (1) Our own emptiness and spiritual thirst deep down in our hearts for inner joy and fulfilment. We must realize how thirsty our spirit is. When we are ‘thirsty’ Jesus comes in search of us at the ‘well’ of our ordinary life-situations because he too is thirsty for sinners like us; he too is constantly in search of us to save us. So he takes the initiative to quench our thirst and asks us: “Give me a drink.” It is something like telling us: “Give me your heart and I shall quench your inner thirst.” What are we thirsty for? Though on the surface level we are thirsty for material things, deep down we are thirsty for love, acceptance, understanding, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, meaning and purpose in life. Ultimately, our thirst is a thirst for God himself, and Jesus says that he can satisfy that thirst with living water. Yes, in every human being there is a longing beyond food, shelter and enjoyment. Living water is God’s love and life, which Jesus gives to those who recognize him as God’s gift. Lenten Season is the most appropriate time to admit how thirsty we are for God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation and grace to grow in divine life. Material things can never satisfy our inner (spiritual) thirst.
Secondly, today’s message motivates us to leave (renounce or give up) like the Samaritan woman our own ‘water-pot,’ that is, selfish or sinful ways and too much immersion or preoccupation with worldly concerns and over-attachment to material things. It also impels us to become humble ‘beggars’ before the merciful Lord and entreat him to shower his gifts of loving mercy and pardon on us with a trustful cry: “Lord, give me this water that I may never be thirsty….” (cf. 4:15).
What prevents us from recognizing Jesus as the giver of divine life or receiving God’s unconditional love and forgiveness? (1) Our prejudices: We all have our social, religious, national, cultural and regional prejudices against certain people/groups. This is the first block that prevents us from accepting any truth coming from “those people”. Look at the barriers Jesus crosses: she is a woman and he is a man not expected to talk to a woman in public (= a gender issue); she is a Samaritan and he is a Jew (= a racial issue); he is a devout Rabbi and she is in immoral character (= a moral issue); and he is a respectable man and she is an outcast (= a social issue). Instead of going beyond these barriers put up by society and its culture and building bridges to cross over them as he did, do we sometimes construct further walls of prejudices and hatred?
(2) Second biggest hurdle are our sins: They break off our love-relationship with God and neighbours. Hence, Jesus, just as he did to the Samaritan woman, challenges us, especially in this Lenten Season, to look into (examine) ourselves. By asking the Samaritan woman to go and call her husband and come back to him (4:16), Jesus exposes her private life. She epitomizes anyone (man or woman) who is estranged from the love of God and neighbour by a sinful life. When we apply it to our own life, in this Lenten Season Jesus must be asking us to bring our several ‘husbands’ (that is, our sins and worldly pleasures by which we temporarily satisfy our inner thirst for happiness) to his feet. Each one of us is the Samaritan woman and Jesus challenges each one of us in this Lent to replace our numerous ‘husbands’ with intimate bond with him and his life-giving Spirit as the centre of our lives.
We crave to satisfy our present wants and needs with possessions and pleasures. We forget that our needs and cravings will come back again and again. For temporary satisfaction, like the Samaritan woman, we too run to countless wells to draw material water without giving a serious thought to our need for living water. The material water is a symbol for our craving for success, self-esteem, self-importance and pleasures. Sometimes we run to muddy waters of power, status, position and possession. Jesus always waits for us at the ‘well’ of our life-situations with his living water. Like her we too seek false happiness in our many ‘husbands’. Since the sacrifice involved in renouncing all these false husbands is too demanding, like her we too put enough resistance to God’s grace. We make so many excuses for not giving up our wrongdoings and bad behaviour. Sometimes we even justify our objectionable behaviour with lame excuses. If ever we could seriously think of what Jesus is offering to us, we would give up all our resistance and excuses.
Jesus becomes a source of divine life for us if we humbly recognize our brokenness. We must humbly beg (that is, ask or request) him to quench our inner thirst with that living water (his love) by admitting our inner wounds and human frailty. It is only when we approach him with our helplessness and broken relationships, without any defence mechanisms and excuses of the kind she made, he fills us with his love and forgiveness. She requests for living water but does not think that first the well must be bored or drilled deep into the hard rock of her heart. She is interested in a religious discussion, but only for satisfying her mind, and not for allowing religious faith to change her conduct. Is this not often true of us also?
An awareness of our own disturbed past and unsatisfied present state of affairs makes us well disposed to thirst for God. The more we look into ourselves the more we enter into the depth of relationship with God, just like the Samaritan woman who is led stepm by step to deeper and deeper knowledge of (or faith in) Jesus: first as sir (4:11), then as prophet (4:19), and finally as Messiah (4:25-26) whom God has given as his greatest gift to a sinful and broken-hearted person like her. When she looked into herself she must have realized her own emptiness. Self-discovery leads to the discovery of God, or revelation of one’s own self and the revelation of God’s unconditional love go hand in hand. Conversion to Christ begins with a sense of sin – a realization that the type of life we are living is not the one we are supposed to live as persons called to a life of holiness by baptism. The more we realize this the more we feel our need for God who alone can take away the restlessness of our hearts and lead us to a change of heart step by as he did to the Samaritan woman.
  1. Response to God's Word
Are we thirsty for God’s values? How do we express this spiritual thirst? What are the barriers which prevent us from receiving God’s love and forgiveness? What are our broken relationships? What are our social, religious and regional prejudices? Who (what) are our ‘five husbands?’ What are the defence mechanisms and excuses we make or resistance we put up to cover up our wrongdoings and refusal to change? Have we lost the sense of sin and justify our immoral ways by saying: “What is wrong in it; everybody does it?”
  1. A prayer

O God, you are my God; I seek you. My soul thirsts for you like a dry and weary land without water. Thank you for giving me your Son Jesus as your greatest gift. Thank you also for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is like a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. Change my heart and remove all the obstacles and resistance that I put to block your love. Amen.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Second Sunday of Lent (A)

Second Sunday of Lent Year A [Mt 17:1-9]
12 March 2017
The Transfiguration of Jesus
Readings: (1) Gen 12:1-4 (2) 2 Tim 1:8-10
  1. Theme in brief:
Attaining glory through the cross
  1.  Focus Statement:
We can reach the mountain of glory only after crossing over the valley of suffering, sacrifice and humiliation.
  1.   Explanation of the text
The main theme of Christ’s Transfiguration on a mountain (traditionally called Mount Tabor) is this: to attain glory through suffering. But this theme is not mentioned directly in today’s gospel text. Hence, it needs to be deduced from the context in which this text is placed. Strikingly, Matthew places this episode immediately after the question of Jesus to his disciples about his real identity at Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am” (Mt 16:15)? Peter had declared that he was the Messiah (Mt 16:16). But his notion of the Messiah was that of a worldly or political king. Jesus had already corrected this wrong notion by telling them that he was going to be a suffering Messiah (Mt 16:21). This idea must have shocked them. Here is another correction.
According to today’s gospel text, Jesus led three of his close disciples – Peter, James and John – up a high mountain “six days later” (17:1); that is, six days after he asked the question about his real identity. The purpose seems to be twofold: (1) to correct their wrong conception of the Messiah; and (2) to teach them about the inevitability of the cross to attain glory or to prepare them to face the scandal of the cross.
Since this unique experience happened on a mountain, it is clear that it happened during Jesus’ prayer – as mountain is a symbol of encounter with God in solitude. The change that took place in his bodily figure or form (commonly called Transfiguration) with the shining of his face like the sun and his clothes like dazzling white (17:2), clearly points to his glorious state after the resurrection. He gave his disciples a glimpse of his future glory (in anticipation) in order to prepare and strengthen them to face the scandal of the cross. In other words, it was a preview of the glory he was to attain at resurrection, only after going through the agony of the cross. In fact, he wanted to point out that there was a crown or great reward beyond the cross.
The Jewish Scripture (called by us OT) was commonly referred to as the Law and the prophets. When Jesus was transfigured, the appearance of two great figures of OT, namely Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) indicates that Jesus is the fulfilment of the messianic hopes of the OT. Though Matthew says that they were talking with Jesus (17:3), he does not say what the subject-matter of their conversation was. We come to know it from Luke that they were speaking about his “departure” (a technical word for his passing over from death to life) which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31). Both these prophets were giving their approval or testimony to the path chosen by Jesus – to be a suffering Messiah and attain glory only through the way of the cross.
Though the clouds in the sky are normally dark, Matthew speaks of a “bright cloud” that overshadowed them (17:5). This bright cloud indicates the presence of the Divine Light (= God). The voice of the Father declares Jesus as his beloved Son (17:5), which also means a beloved servant because of its connection with the suffering servant of Yahweh, in the Book of Isaiah (cf. 42:1). Jesus becomes the Father’s beloved Son and the Father is well pleased with him precisely because of his willingness to become his obedient servant unto death on the cross. The Father approves the path chosen by his Son by calling him his Beloved Son and asking the disciples to listen to him (17:5). To “listen” means to obey him or imitate his way of attaining glory through humiliation and suffering.
Peter’s reaction to this tremendous experience was to stay there on the mountain permanently and pitch three tents: one for Jesus, one for Elijah and for Moses (17:4). His desire to prolong this experience and erect permanent dwellings indicates a short-cut method of attaining glory by avoiding the cross. Matthew tells us that Jesus touched the three disciples when they fell to the ground out of fear (17:6-7). This touch was meant to help them overcome the fear (both at the sight of dazzling glory of the Lord and the thought of suffering), and reassure them of his strength to face suffering (17:7). The secret about this vision had to be kept till the resurrection (17:9) to avoid misunderstanding about the type of Messiah Jesus was going to become.
  1.  Application to life
Every day when we recite the Angelus we pray that we may be brought to the glory of Christ’s resurrection by his passion and cross. This is exactly what theologians call “paschal mystery of Christ”. The Hebrew word ‘pascha’ means passing over and refers to Christ’s passing or crossing over to glory through his passion and death. ‘Mystery’ (a word used by St. Paul, cf. Eph 3:5) refers to a hidden plan made by God (now revealed to the apostles through the Holy Spirit) to save us only through the suffering and death of Jesus and not in any other way. The message of the Transfiguration is the same – we can reach the mountain of glory only after crossing over the valley of suffering. In short, the message is: there is no crown (= glory) without a cross (= suffering).
What is a cross? It is a symbol of three things: (1) suffering because Jesus suffered terribly on it; (2) sacrifice because he sacrificed his life on it; and (3) humiliation because he died shameful death of a criminal on it. The crosses in our life can be persons, situations, places, work or job and responsibilities that give us a lot of pain, agony, physical and mental torture, discomfort, risk and humiliation. For example, an alcoholic husband is a cross to his wife, an unfaithful husband/wife to his/her wife/husband, a disobedient or delinquent child to its parents, and an enemy to his/her enemies. A serious illness (either one’s own or of others in the family) which does not get cured, a risky work or job, a heavy responsibility of family/ workplace/ institution/ organization, a dangerous and insecure place to live can become a cross. All the humiliations we get from our own family members, colleagues, companions and opponents when we do something right and just or for social welfare are crosses. Feelings of failure, loss, loneliness, unrest, rejection and hopelessness are also other crosses. We see the shadow of the cross whenever we sacrifice our selfishness, security, power, comforts and even friends in order to follow the Lord. This sharing of his glory takes place to some extent when we experience peace and joy in this life after going through a lot of suffering and sacrifices. But this glory is only a glimpse of the everlasting glory of heaven. Compared to that glory, all the sufferings of this present life are not worth (cf. Rom 8:18). This hope of the glory to come sustains us when we walk through the valley of tears or suffering.
The same voice of the Father that appealed to the apostles to listen to Jesus as he is his Beloved Son, appeals to us to listen to or imitate Jesus in our moments of trials, temptation, sufferings, humiliation and rejection. How can we listen to Jesus if we are not attuned to his voice by remaining close to him in prayer? How can we listen to him if we follow the latest fads of the consumerist society instead of following him? In our hunger for power, position and ambitions, we are reminded to imitate him who rejected these worldly standards in obedience to God’s will. As God’s beloved sons/ daughters in whom he is well pleased, even in our failure and humiliation, we are called to walk in his footsteps, that is, walk the way of the cross. We are called to follow a suffering Messiah who attains his glory through the cross. If we have tried to bypass the cross – as Peter was trying to do with his proposal to remain on the mountain-top permanently – Lent is the most appropriate time to listen to him, to follow his footsteps by embracing the cross. We listen to Jesus in his Word found in the Gospel. Amidst so many other contrary voices of the world that come through bad companions, misleading guides and mass media, do we try to keep attuned to our Master’s voice? Which voice is stronger and louder: the former or the latter?
Like Peter, we have a tendency to prolong happiness and stay fixed on the mountain of glory and escape from the problems and hardships of life. We have a desire to attain glory and prolong its joy by trying to evade crosses. As fathers of families we want to attain unity and harmony in our families, but without sacrificing our time for guiding our children; as husbands we want better understanding with our wives, but without spending time for communicating mutual expectations; we want a corruption-free society, but won’t mind giving bribe to avoid trouble and inconveniences for us; we want children to obey us, but do not practice what we preach to them because of which we lose respect and obedience from them; we want peace, but do not want to forgive or take steps for reconciliation. This is the short-cut method to glory proposed by so many Peters all around the world.
There are also some other Peters who want to build only ‘tents’ (memorials, monuments, churches, institutions, conduct novenas and establish healing centres), and forget about Jesus’ mission to the poor and the marginalized. Like Peter, they want to remain comfortably fixed in these and do not want to enter into human misery and problems below the mountain. Of course, mountain of glory is more enjoyable and comfortable than the valley of struggles and tensions.
The lesson drawn from the transfiguration of Christ teaches us that our Christian life has two inseparable elements: “ascending” and “descending” or "going up the mountain" and "coming down the mountain". We need to ascend or “go up the mountain” to encounter the Lord in prayer, to listen to his voice. But we cannot stay there permanently even if we happen to get ‘mystical visions.’  Our intimacy with the Master and experience of his splendour or glory in prayer and contemplation energizes us to go “down the mountain” to face the hardships of life which are our daily crosses, just as the disciples descended from the mountain to proceed with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane and to Mount Calvary. This intimacy also inspires us to reach out to the sick, the hungry, the poor and the marginalized.
The Lenten Season invites us to retrace our steps towards the path followed by Jesus. When we are frightened of trials and sufferings of life, just as he touched his disciples, today and everyday Jesus touches us and gives us the strength to get up. He tells us to arise and live a life without fear during trials and difficulties of life, especially when we do good. He invites us to go to our ‘Tabor’ – to encounter God in prayer and solitude – with the intention of sending us to the valley of suffering to become beloved sons and daughters of God who are called to be his beloved servants for his cause. He assures us of a crown beyond the crosses. Every Eucharistic celebration is also like a mountain-top experience that energizes us to face trials of life. But we cannot say like Peter: It is good for us to be here all the time. Soon the priest will say: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord by loving and serving others. He also sends us to take up our crosses and follow the Lord. Since during liurgy we are with Christ on the mountain, and are given spiritual nourishment, we can go out from here with the hope that his strength will be with us in our trials and daily crosses.
  1. Response to God's Word
Do we follow Christ in moments of failure and humiliation, or follow our own impulses? Are we willing to climb down from the mountain of achievements, name and fame, power and honour, and walk with Jesus up to Calvary? As God’s beloved children, do we listen to Jesus in prayer and solitude (symbolized by the mountain), when we feel we are not on a mountain of glory and honour, but deep into the pit? How often did we fail to live and act as God’s beloved children by failing to imitate Jesus, especially in the dark moments of our lives? In which moments and situations we tried to run away or escape from crosses and looked for our own comforts?
  1. A Prayer

Lord Jesus, grant that we may be brought to the glory of your resurrection by your passion and cross. Touch us and raise us up with your strength so that we do not run away from the cross or escape from sacrifices involved in fulfilling your mission. Grant that we may imitate your way of sacrificial love for the salvation of the world. Give us the courage and strength to carry our daily crosses so that we may share your glory. Confirm us with an unwavering hope in your promises so that we may courageously face sufferings of this life with that goal in mind. Amen.

Friday, 3 March 2017

First Sunday of Lent (A)

First Sunday of Lent ( A) [Mt 4:1-11]
05 March 2017
The Temptation of Jesus Regarding Basic Drives
Readings:  (1) Gen 2:7-9;3:1-7 (2) Rom 5:12-19
  1. Theme in brief:
Victory over our basic drives
  1. Focus Statement:
In this Lenten Season, Jesus invites us to imitate him in overcoming temptations pertaining to our basic drives, and make a definite decision to be faithful to our baptismal vocation.
  1. Explanation of the text
Strikingly, all the first three gospels mention about the temptations of Jesus immediately after his baptism. Soon after making a decision at baptism to be obedient to the Father’s will unto death, and to be faithful to his mission, his battle with the forces of evil that are opposed to that mission begins – symbolized by temptations of the devil. Today’s gospel dramatically portrays the inner struggle that was going on in the mind of Jesus throughout his life to be or not to be faithful to God. It dramatically depicts how he was very much tempted like us not to be faithful to his mission, but won over this test by firmly rejecting the devil’s proposals and totally submitting himself to the will of God. Elsewhere also the NT says that he was tested (tempted) in every respect as we are, but did not succumb to it (Heb 4:15).
Since the first two temptations brought to Jesus by the devil begin with the same words, “If you are the Son of God….. “ (4:3, 5), it is clear that his sonship which was declared at the time of his baptism (Mt 3:17) is being tested severely. The devil proposes to Jesus his own vitiated meaning of ‘Son of God’ – that which means worshipping worldly power and pomp. The devil challenges Jesus to prove that he is really God’s Son by changing stones into bread and jumping down from the pinnacle of the Temple. When we carefully read the three types of temptations of Jesus, we notice that the devil is not asking Jesus to commit any immoral act as such. Rather he is forcing Jesus to change his decision to be obedient to God and absolutely do only his will. He is enticing Jesus to adopt other convenient and easier means to complete his mission of saving humankind. Naturally, he was proposing short-cuts to glory bypassing the cross.
The devil is presented in this text as the one who tries to trap Jesus into his designs by catching the three basic drives in all human beings: (1) Temptation to convert stones into bread refers to challenging Jesus to misuse his divine powers for personal gain or to use them only to satisfy his own selfish needs (4:3). Obviously, the devil wants Jesus to seek total security in material things only and not to trust in God’s providential care. For Jesus, being the Son of God means to depend on God for daily bread or material needs. (2) Second temptation that challenges him to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple refers to asking him to deliberately put himself at a great risk and expect God to come to his rescue (4:6). The devil wants Jesus to demonstrate publicly God’s care for him or test and see whether God cares. In other words, he suggests that Jesus make God dance to his tune and even upset the natural order to serve his purpose; and thus seek cheap popularity. (3) Third temptation to show all the kingdoms of the world refers to giving Jesus political power over them, and the devil’s promise to give Jesus their “splendour”refers to all the wealth of those kingdoms (4:8). Of course, the devil has a condition: If ever Jesus could fall down and worship him, that is, worship power and wealth (4:9).
The gospel text puts the temptations of Jesus in the setting of “wilderness” (4:1) precisely because they represent the tests undergone by Israel during their fourty years of journey in the wilderness. Israel also doubted in God’s providential care (Ex 16:2), put God to the test (Ex 17:1), and went after the worship of idols instead of one Lord God (Deut 6:13).
When Jesus defeated the devil, the gospel text says that “suddenly angels came and waited on him” (4:11). This indicates God’s (represented by angels) approval of the stand taken by Jesus against the devil’s designs (4:11).
  1. Application to life
On Ash Wednesday we mentioned that Lent is a time for renewal of our baptismal grace and commitment. We heard in the textual explanation above that Jesus was tested by the devil with regards to his baptismal vocation as the Son of God. Like him we too are tested or tempted throughout our life to go against our baptismal promises to renounce Satan and his pomp, and to be faithful to our commitment to serve God alone. In other words, we are often tempted to deviate from our baptismal vocation and mission. Temptations are an unavoidable part of human life. All of us have inner impulses and tendencies that pull us away from the path laid down by Christ in the gospel.  There is a strong pull inside us and around us (in our society) to abandon the principles of the gospel and to conform to a socially acceptable behaviour. How far are we struggling to resist these pressures following the example of Jesus who firmly rejected the enticement laid by the devil?
First of all, as Jesus we too are often tempted to use our powers for self-interest, and to forget about others’ needs. With the grace of God we need to overcome this test and decide like Jesus not to “live by bread alone” (4:4). Sooner or later we come to the realization that all our needs are not or cannot be met by material things. In spite of having the latest gadgets and comforts, we feel that there is an emptiness in us which we cannot fill.  Though food nourishes our bodies, it is “every word coming from the mouth of God” (4:4) that guides and moves our spirit. We are not here on earth only to eat, drink and make merry but to live for God and his values; to live for love, fellowship and for building up communities. Lent is the opportune time to examine whether we have drifted away from our life’s purpose or mission as Christian disciples.
Secondly, as Jesus we too are tempted to shun (run away) from our responsibilities and then demand miracles from God as proof of his love or care for us. In other words, we expect God to save us miraculously from all problems and suffering and prove his almighty powers, while we escape from our responsibilities. It is like telling God something like this: “O God, if you really exist, if you really love and care for me, you must do this particular thing for me.... You must miraculously save me from this particular problem/ illness/ calamity!’’ Even in prayer sometimes we pray for “my will, my will, O Lord” or “my way, my way, O Lord” and want him to use his almighty power to miraculously change our situation and fulfils our demands. Like Jesus we must decide not to put the Lord our God to the test (4:7) by using him to suit our designs. We must remain faithful to God even when God does not come to our rescue in all natural and man-made calamities and sufferings for reasons known to him alone. Lent is the time to realize that we are insufficient.
Thirdly, as Jesus we too are tempted to misuse our powers, talents, position and wealth for our own ambitions and to compromise with evil. Sometimes this tendency may go to the extent of ‘worshipping’ power, position and wealth. Under this category come temptations to pay homage to (or to put total trust in) our capabilities, bank balance, military might, weapons, name and fame, etc. Lent is the most appropriate time to make a firm decision like Jesus not to worship or serve worldly standards such as power and wealth, but God alone (4:10). God should be the only Master of our life.
All the three temptations are power-related: the first one is about misusing one’s power to meet one’s material needs miraculously; the second one is about misusing one’s power to work spectacular miracles to gain cheap popularity; and the third one is about using one’s worldly power to establish a political kingdom.
Who is this Satan or devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Without entering into any debate with the various meanings and explanations given to devil or Satan by theologians and spiritual authors, for our reflection in Lent we can take one meaning: He is the most powerful symbol of an Evil Power that attacks a fervent believer in many ways: (1) the Evil Power that infects our mind and contaminates it by putting evil thoughts and desires into it to rebel against God and his standards just it happened to Jesus; (2) the Evil Power that appears in the form of bad companions, or even well meaning companions and colleagues, like Peter who had advised Jesus not to walk the way of the cross, and to whom Jesus had rebuked by saying, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt 16:23); (3) the Evil Power that enters through our God-given gifts and talents to make us feel too proud of them to the extent of thinking that we are indispensable to our family/ organization/ company/ religious congregation/ diocese/ parish and makes us think: “Let me see, how they will run the show without me”; and (4) the Evil Power that prompts in our minds not to accept responsibility for our failures; instead, cover them up, make excuses and put the blame on others.
Traditionally, Satan’s role is described as seducing or enticing people into sin. Sin is a virus that infects the spirit in us and blocks our growth in divine life infused in us at baptism and also growth into maturity of discipleship. All the temptations of Jesus mentioned in today’s gospel fall under what spiritual authors call seven basic drives or inclinations to sin with which all humans are born: anger, pride, envy, lust, sloth, covetousness and gluttony. Selfishness is the father of all these seven. If we allow these basic drives to take control of our minds and thinking pattern, they will lead us not only to sins but also to unfaithfulness to our baptismal vocation. Let us look at the spiritual havoc done by these basic drives when they are left unbridled: Anger may lead to bitterness, hatred, judgmental attitude, condemnation towards our enemies/opponents; pride may prompt us to become ‘unteachable’, arrogant and rebellious; envy may make us sad at another’s good and joyful at their evil, or lead us to indulge in calumny, obsessive desire to sit on somebody else’s ‘chair’ (position); and to put down better performers than us; lust may lead to sexual abuses, pornography, unhealthy friendships/ relationships, and misuse of internet/ mobile phones/ TV; sloth may lead us to become lazy, idle away time, neglect duties and engage in so much gossiping; covetousness may lead to crave for the “splendour” of worldly kingdom resulting in craze to possess latest things, and to exhibit inordinate attachment to money, things, persons and places;  and gluttony may lead to indulging in overeating and drinking when it is freely available, sometimes even at the wrong time.
Today’s passage places before us the model of Jesus to battle with the forces of evil within and outside us during this Lent.  Following the example of Jesus who fasted for fourty days (4:2), Lent is the most opportune time to examine how our Christian faith and vocation are constantly battered by forces opposed to the Kingdom of God or supportive of the kingdom of Satan and how we lose the battle. Lent is the best time to get rid of the virus that has infected our spirit due to seven forces of evil by using an anti-virus programme – of prayer, fasting (penance), reflection on God’s Word and reception of sacraments with fervent faith and proper disposition. When we struggle to resist temptations two things fill us with tremendous consolation: (1) If Jesus our High Priest was tested (tempted) in every respect as we are (Heb 4:15), why not we? Neither in Jesus, nor in us, is temptation a one-time occurrence, but a life-long ordeal. We are fortunate to have a High Priest (Jesus) who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). (2) In our test of faith, we are not alone, but have the assurance, presence and supporting hand of Jesus who says: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). The Church invites us to make a definite decision for God and his standards rather than world’s. She invites us renew our promise made at baptism not to put God to the test, not to worship power and wealth, but to live on God’s word and serve him above everything or everybody else.
  1. Response to God's Word
Are we faithful to our baptismal promises of renouncing Satan and his pomp – the worship of power and money, and becoming slaves of evil habits? In what way do we misuse our powers, distrust God’s care and compromise our values with that of the world? Do we trust in God’s providential care for our material needs? Do we expect miracles from God on our behalf without fulfilling our duties and responsibilities? Do we consider power and wealth more valuable than real love? Are we willing to follow the path of intense prayer, fasting, penance, Scripture-reading during this Lent as means to resist evil and anti-Kingdom forces? What is our Lenten programme to get liberated from its hold?
  1. A Prayer

Lord Jesus, just like you we too are often tempted not to be faithful to our baptismal promises; to use our powers to satisfy our selfish needs; to distrust God’s providential care to satisfy our material needs; to demand miracles from God as a proof of his love for us and avoid our responsibilities; to crave for power, prestige, honour and wealth and to make compromises with the worldly standards. We believe that you are with us and give us the strength to face these temptations because you too were tested like us. Give us the grace to make decisive choice for God’s values and always to say ‘no’ to the ways of the world. Amen.