Homily: First Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Readings of the Day

Frodo Baggins didn’t want the Ring, once he found out what it was. It was overwhelming, the power it had and the danger it represented. He didn’t trust himself with such a great responsibility. But there was somebody he could trust, a great and powerful man, who could surely keep the Ring safe: Gandalf. Gandalf was strong, wise and powerful, could probably even hold his own against the Dark Lord himself.

But Gandalf wouldn’t take it. He said that he’d be tempted to use it for doing Good, and through him the Ring would work a greater effect for Evil. Gandalf didn’t trust himself with the Ring, even to keep it safe. It would give him God like powers, and he knew he wasn’t a God.  Frodo could be trusted, because he was meant to have it.  Since Frodo was an ordinary person without high aspirations beyond his grasp, he could resist the Ring more safely.

The Ring in The Lord of the Rings is the best metaphor for Sin I know of. Sin is like using the Ring: we think we can get away with using its power, we think we can be invisible and no one will catch us, we think it gives us power beyond our dreams, and we can live forever. It’s all a lie, because Sin (the Ring) only makes us think these things; it never delivers everything it promises and it ends up owning us if we try to use it too long.  Sin tempts us to use God like power, and the problem with that is we aren’t God.

It’s the same kind of temptation Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden. Original Sin is trying to be like God, replacing God, doing without God, living as God didn’t exist. It didn’t kill them but it made it impossible for them to live in Paradise any longer. It gave them sight that really didn’t help them, and power they couldn’t use. By the way, Eve’s gotten a bad rap in this story: as it’s told, Adam is standing next to her all the time she’s talking with the serpent, and he says nothing to change her mind. Adam could have said something like: “And since when is the serpent our friend? He’s really smarter than God?” They’re both equally guilty.

Satan’s temptation of Jesus are temptations of virtue. Satan asks Jesus to do things that are well within his capability. Sure, he can turn stones into bread, or fly off the roof of the Temple, or rule every kingdom in the world by force. The problems are it’s temptation to use his gifts selfishly, temptations that will change who he is. Temptation to become something else he isn’t meant to be: a God that imposes his will on the world. Adam and Eve gave in to that kind of temptation; Jesus didn’t because he didn’t have higher aspirations beyond his grasp. Because Jesus didn’t, we can, because we can draw on Jesus’ strength.

Our temptations are frequently driven by dark emotions: despair, anger, vengeance, fear. They can be temptations of virtue, to use our gifts selfishly, and ignore what our actions might do to others. We are tempted to use power the wrong way. We usually aren’t tempted to do things we can’t do but things we shouldn’t do.

Our Lenten journey is about keeping our perspective, keeping our eye on the whole picture, keeping ourselves on the right track. Keeping faith in ultimate goodness, that evil will not win in the end. If it seems evil is going to win, then we’ve gotten the story wrong, because the story isn’t over.

Jesus gives us himself, does the opposite of what Satan tempts him to do. Jesus gives himself to us completely, so we can have his strength. Jesus helps us resist temptation, because he gives us all the power we need, and it’s a good power, a power that isn’t destructive. We still carry our Rings of temptation, but through Christ, we know we don’t have to use them, even when things get dangerous, even when we get scared, even when we get overly ambitious, even when we feel we need to take control.  Christ is in control, and that’s enough.

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