“Steadfast Amidst Temptation”
February 21, 2021
First Sunday in Lent
1 Peter 3:18-22
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
I used to go to a chiropractor, and he told me that our bones need to be aligned once in a while, just like the wheels of the car need to be aligned periodically. Lent is the time to realign our spiritual walk. It is a good time, but not exclusive.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and we begin our journey in this Season. The gospel for the first Sunday is always about the temptation of Jesus Christ. The Liturgical Calendar is a three-year cycle of Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. This is Year B, and it is Mark's turn and his gospel is terse, short and sweet with little details.
In our gospel, we find Jesus starting His forty days of fasting and prayer. Before He starts His ministry, He goes into this time, contemplating on how He is going to establish the kingdom of God on earth. Satan doesn’t like this so he goes to Jesus and distracts Him, trying to derail Him and lose His focus. He attacks Jesus in the battleground – the mind - and makes his way down to Jesus’ heart.
Understand that temptations are subtle and deceptive, and they are disguised as logical, sensible, and a good idea. Its purpose is to derail us from God's course. Jesus was tempted as man. He did not cheat and overcome temptation as God. He struggled to discern if the temptation was God’s will. In overcoming, it affirms our human nature and our ability to overcome. If Jesus was able to overcome as a man, we can overcome as humans as well. It also affirms our ability to rule and reign because He has overcome in our behalf.
In Jesus’ temptation, St. Mark said that He was with the wild beasts and angels were ministering to Him. He was in between the physical and the spiritual. Man is both. He stands between the matter and the spirit. He is like the microcosm of the created order. His body is a hybrid of body and soul. In man, the material and the ethereal come together. Man plays a vital role in creation, presiding over the reconciliation of these two dimensions. At His best, He can engender harmony of the two dimensions. At His worst, He can wreak havoc by making them war with each other. He can be angelic at His best, or animalistic at His worst.
I was watching a talent show where Simon Cowell was one of the judges. There was a singer who auditioned singing a song he composed about him losing his best friend. As he sang, it was like everybody was under a spell. The judges were quiet and Simon could not speak. It was obvious that there was a lump in his throat. Simon was captivated not only by the voice, but by the spirit that collaborated with the voice that produced something that connected to the people.
This is who we are – not purely animal and not purely spiritual. God made us this way. The harmonious working together of flesh and spirit produces beauty, gives life, heals, and meets the needs.
This is what being human is all about; this is the goodness of our creation and our Divine likeness.
Then the fall came, and man sinned. In German, the word sin is “sunde” to mean sunder, asunder, divide. Division is the result of giving in to temptation of the devil. The devil is diabolos which means to scatter, to divide. Division is from him who steals, kills and destroys. Sin makes our flesh and spirit clash at each other, to be at war against each other. St. Paul elaborates in Romans 7 that it is his own struggle, his flesh and his spirit wanting to do something else. There was war within his members. The spirit and body are one; two members but one body. If we side with either one, it is unhealthy. If we focus on the flesh too much, then, we follow hedonism, which is living with the carnal desires. We live like animals. It is purely material, not driven by conscience. Animals steal, and are not led by conscience.
Our makeup is not just about the flesh, but also of the spirit. There should be life and spirit involved.
Man is created body and soul and it is good. To be human is good. Jesus was made like us, fully human, in all things except sin. We should not define humanity according to the weakness but according to the original good and creation of God. Sin is the only thing that is bad, all else is good; this is why He saves us from sin. Jesus doesn’t save us from our bodies. Our body is good.
Flesh has two meanings in the Bible: our flesh and our fallen state. Flesh is feelings/emotions, abilities, talents, art, music, and they are all good as long as they are the product of the body and soul collaboration according to God’s will.
We will continue to be human in the life of the world to come. We were created good and to good we shall return. Where and what is this? It is in Eden; in Paradise; heaven on earth; in our renewed, resurrected, glorified body. At this time, body and soul will be reconciled.
Matthew and Luke give the details. In the first temptation, Satan appealed to Jesus’ flesh, to materialism, when he asked Jesus to turn the stone into bread to satisfy His hunger. The second and third temptation appealed to His soul, His spiritual nature like pride and power. Jesus doesn’t shun either of these but He disciplines them and He puts them in their right place.
In Jesus, the division of the two is healed, and the fabric of creation is reknit. In Ephesians1:10, it says that all things will be summed up, and will be brought together in Christ. Things in heaven, that is the spiritual, and things on earth, the material, will come together and will be summed up. This is why Jesus is the perfect human, but He is also called the firstborn, meaning, Jesus will be the first to perfect what it is to be human. We will follow suit, and we will resume the fulfillment of our mandate given to us in creation which is to rule and to reign on the earth because it is good.
Romans 8:19 says, “The created order subjected to futility, anxiously awaits for the revealing of the sons of God, the brothers of Jesus Christ, so that they can be set free from their slavery to the corruption into freedom.” Don’t give in to the temptation of division of our members, within, that is the spirit that wants to obey God and follow Him, and the spirit that wants to follow the flesh. We should not allow them to clash within and without. Let not division get the better of us especially between us and our brother.
Division is from the devil. It is deceptive. Temptation makes division look like a good idea, but remember we are members of the Body of Christ and members of one another. Division dismembers. Someone beautifully said, "This is why we have the Eucharist, to re-member." What is dis-membered, in Eucharist, we re-member; we re-attached; we re-connect; we re-unite.
In Ephesians 2:14, “In Jesus’ flesh on the cross, He reconciled all in one body to God.” As often as we have Eucharist, we proclaim what His death has done for us. We should live it out until He comes again. We preside over reconciliation of all things, including us to one another. The harmony of all creation is the dignity, the blessing, and the honor of human life to which we are being restored for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.