La La Land

Homily for March 5, 2017 (First Sunday of Lent)
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

We’ve all heard that “Seeing is believing.”  But that doesn’t always mean that what we see is true.  Just ask Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  The actors, perhaps most famous for their roles in the movie Bonnie and Clyde, had been asked to announce the nominees and winner of Best Picture at the Oscar Awards ceremony last Sunday.  They read the name on the card in the envelope they opened and announced what most people and critics expected:  La La Land.

There was just one problem:  it wasn’t true.   After several minutes of celebration, consternation, confusion and embarrassment, it was announced that there had been a mistake.  The true winner of the award for Best Picture was Moonlight.

Everyone who participated in or watched the Oscars was reminded that seeing can also be deceiving.  Our eyes and our other senses can fool us.  Just because something tastes good doesn’t mean that it’s good for us.  Just because something smells sweet doesn’t mean that it isn’t also poisonous.  Just because something begs to be touched doesn’t mean it won’t shock, sting or burn us.  Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

If you don’t think that our senses can fool us, just ask Eve and Adam.  The fruit that the serpent offered Eve was from the only tree from which God had forbidden them to eat lest they die. What the serpent said sounded good. The tree looked good and its fruit seemed desirable for gaining wisdom.   It didn’t turn out that way.

During his 40-day “retreat” in the desert, Jesus had to contend with his own temptations:

Turn stone into bread (taste and smell)—He was tempted to use his own power to meet his immediate needs.  Instead he chose to use that power to help and heal others.
Throw himself down from the parapet of the temple (feeling)—He was tempted to act recklessly and take God’s grace and mercy for granted.  (He also saw that even the devil can quote the Bible!) Jesus trusted his Father enough not to put him to the test.
Turn from God and worship something/someone entirely other (Satan).  Jesus refused to be seduced even by “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.”

As Sr. Diane Bergant, a noted Scripture scholar has pointed out, the temptations that Jesus faced were not much different than those faced by his ancestors on their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land:  grumbling against God because of hunger, demanding a demonstration of divine power, and worshiping a false god. In each instance, Jesus responded with a Scripture passage that showed he not only knew the Law and the Prophets but that he knew his mission and the One who had given it to him.

Lent is a particularly focused time for us open our hearts to receive what St. Paul called “the abundance of grace and…the gift of justification” offered to us by God.  They may not always look as attractive as a piece of forbidden fruit but it is much better for us.  May we be ready to receive what God offers us with cleaner hearts and steadfast, willing and fervent spirits. +