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First Sunday in Lent: February 26, 2023

First Sunday in Lent: February 26, 2023

Genesis 2: 15-17; 25-3: 7

Psalm 32: 1-8

Romans 5: 12-21

Matthew 4: 1-11

Bishop Ariel P. Santos

We walk once more in the pilgrim way of Lent. Lent is not necessarily a season of sadness or gloom; Lent actually means spring. Spiritually, we do a general cleaning and we are encouraged, at this time, to go into the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confess our sins. Lent is not to have the “Biyernes Santo” look as they say. Good Friday is actually good news. The picture of the cross is ugly for it is the picture of our God, in Christ, taking the ugliness of our sins upon Himself; but this is beauty in perfection.

During the first Sunday in Lent, the gospel is always the temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus was in the wilderness preparing for His ministry. Jesus was praying and contemplating, “Father, how am I supposed to bring out the establishment of Your kingdom on earth? How will I make Your kingdom come on earth? Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” During this time, because He was human, He was also tempted like we are yet He did not sin.

How did the tempter come to Jesus? Through His thoughts just like this tempter comes to us. Jesus’ temptation was not obvious. It was packaged beautifully. An example is that a man will not be tempted to a woman who is not good looking. Temptation always comes with an attraction. The tempter appeals to our inclination to do what is contrary to the will of God. Jesus was human and He did have free will and an inclination to resist God and to say no to him. However, Jesus also had the free will to obey God, which He chose to do.

In Genesis, the serpent was described to be crafty, deceitful. When we are being deceived, we don’t know we are being deceived. It is easier to resist if the temptation is obviously evil, but when it looks like logical, sensible and practical, and looks like the will of God, this is true temptation.

There are three things about temptation: one, Jesus was tempted as a man. The temptation appealed to His human desires. He was God but He was also man. Second, the temptation was subtle, deceptive and disguised as logical, sensible, and as a good idea. In Genesis 3, the serpent deceived Eve, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and then she ate. Furthermore, she gave also the fruit to Adam and he also ate.” Third thing: Jesus struggled to discern if they are God’s will because it was attractive.

In the first temptation, the tempter asked Jesus to turn the stones to bread. It was more to a temptation to Jesus’ personal hunger. It is a temptation to take a short cut. What is the biggest injustice during His time and up to now? It is poverty; it is an injustice. No one has to go hungry and no one has to ever die of starvation. God gave the earth and it is full of blessings. No one should die of hunger.

Jesus was asked to do the short cut: to turn the stones to bread to feed the people. It will make Him popular and it would be the fulfillment of the kingdom of God coming here. But Jesus rebuked the tempter to say that man does not leave on bread alone. Jesus actually did this – He multiplied two fish and five loaves, fed the multitude and people followed Him. He attracted crowds but He confronted the crowds to tell them that they are not really followers because they were after the unli-bread and unli-fish. He told them, “You should eat My flesh and drink My blood.” The people left including His disciples. It may seem to be practical to feed, but Jesus detected the deception: skip “Loving the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength”; just go to “Loving your neighbor” and feed them. This is what some atheists do.

It may attract people and it may sound like it has a noble end of feeding the hungry; but we don’t just feed them material things. We also feed them the bread of angels and the body and blood of Christ. prosperity gospel verges on humanism with the objective that to seemingly follow Jesus is to be blessed with material things. We miss the point. We must not set aside the first commandment in the Summary of the Law, which is to love God first. Only when we love God first and put Him first, can we really fulfill doing justice to our neighbor and then loving our ourselves. Our Lord is the source of true love; otherwise, there will be no true justice.

The second temptation of Jesus was that which is spectacular, having signs and wonders. Jesus was asked to jump off from the pinnacle of the temple, a place where the shofar is blown. The tempter brought this into His mind that if He jumps from the pinnacle gracefully with no difficulty, the people witnessing Him would say, “This is the Son of God! It is a miracle!” If Jesus gave in to this temptation, the people’s faith will be shallow.

This already happened in the Old Testament. Through the ten plagues, the Israelites witnessed the power of God through Moses, but in the wilderness, they still complained and rebelled. Honestly, I prayed this before so that people will be convinced that I am the leader sent by God, “Lord, why don’t You cause a miracle through me? Perform one big miracle through my hands so that people will believe that I am the one sent by You?” It may sound nice and sensible, but this is not the way of God.

How will the world believe? Jesus said, “It is when My disciples are one, just like God the Father and I, the Son, are one. Then, the world will believe.” John 17:21 says, “Our unity is what will make the world believe, not signs and wonders.” Some of the people didn’t believe after seeing Jesus’ miracles. Some people didn’t believe after seeing Moses’ miracles. I am not against miracles; I believe in miracles; we just saw a miracle this past sixteen months. We, a few hundred people, raised 11.6 million for our Church building; but this is not the foundation of our faith. Our calling is not to create magic for the people to believe. It is not to impress or to perform to make people believe, but it is to minister. The kindness of God leads people to repentance. When we demonstrate the Divine nature, this is when people will believe, and the foundation of their faith will not rest on man’s wisdom or ability, but on the power of God. What we need to show is patience, to being forgiving, and being non-violent. This is a longer route to our destination.

Jesus said, “A crooked and perverse generation seeks for a sign, but only the sign of Jonah will be given.” It will be just enough so that our faith will be built up and we will incline our ear. If we can see it with our eyes, we don’t need to believe, and we don’t need faith. Hebrews says, “Faith is the substance of things we hope for and the evidence of things not yet seen.”

The problem with some people is that they are too impatient and they want to see the manifestation right away. I don’t like it when things are not ideal. We are called to exercise three main virtues: faith, hope and love. For me, it is beautiful that we will have a lot of stories and testimonies of how we started this Church building: from its ground-breaking, blessing the land and to having its roof and to seeing how it started to rise until it is completed. This is because we have faith for which we did not see. We need this and still need it. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” Sometimes, it takes so long, but we still are called to hope and to have faith. If God will always explain things to us, we won’t understand it anyway because God is unfathomable.

Abraham Lincoln says, “Take all of this book (the Holy Bible) upon reason that you can and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a happy man.” This applies to our lives. Take all our experience, our stories upon reason that we can according to our understanding. Those that we can’t understand, take them by faith, then, we will live and die a happy man because we are called to have faith in God.

The genre of Christianity is not non-fiction; it is mystery. It is appraised mystically not intellectuality. It is not a Bachelor’s degree, not a religion, but a relationship that we grow into. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, “Are You the Christ? We want the answer now. Tell us plainly!” Our goal is to grow in the knowledge and love of God. It is not to figure Him out because He is infinite! I have been married to my wife for 26 years; we are intimate; we are one flesh, but to this day, she is still a mystery and sometimes, I couldn’t figure her out. However, we are committed to love till death do us part. We won’t know what will happen to tomorrow, but we have faith enough to see through our relationship even if we haven’t seen the full manifestation of the things to come. This is why we have the blessed hope.

Many times, it is difficult to hear the voice of God. We believe in consensus government in CEC, but the bishop finds it not easy to hear the voice of God especially if we deal with human beings. There is the clash of views and opinions. How do we hear the voice of God? With patience and a lot of prayer!

C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters book, “The irresistible and the indisputable are two weapons God cannot use.” When God gives us something and we can’t resist, this violates our being given a free will. If we can’t contest, it is also a violation of our free will. We can’t be robots – being programmed to do what it has to do. C.S. Lewis says also that the greatest demonstration of omnipotence is giving human beings the opportunity, the freedom to say “no” to God, their Creator. We have to faith in God and believe in His ways.

The third temptation is about power where the tempter showed the kingdoms of the world. He said to Jesus, “If You bow down to me (following his ways instead of God’s ways) all of these kingdoms will be yours.” “If You lay down Your cross and take up the swords, guns and tanks, it is easier to make the non-believers to surrender to God.” Those that do not believe will be eliminated and what will be left are those who do. It may sound good, and persecution will stop because there are no longer atheists, but this is not God’s ways. If Jesus did this, He will just be another conqueror, not the One Savior of the world. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

To the world, the Cross is foolishness. The sword makes more sense, faster, more effective and the way of the world. Jesus taught us The Lord Prayer. Our Father, who is in heaven, is holy and different from the way of the world. We want to be like God so His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We do this by God’s grace – to give us this day our daily bread, the Eucharist, and forgive us from our sins and as God does, may He forgive us as we do to one another. This is how the kingdom of God will come here. This is the way of God.

Incline our ears to the voice of God. What is He saying to us? It is now what the devil and the world is saying because their means don’t justify our righteous end. Don’t bow down to the evil way; worship God and obey Him only and follow His ways only.

Adam failed because He listed to the voice of the devil; Jesus overcame because He listened to the voice of God. We must train ourselves to be familiar with the Word of God. The Word of God is not just a book; it is a Person and His name is Jesus Christ. The Bible points to Jesus Christ. We need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word every day!

We are CEC and we believe in three streams: sacramental; charismatic; and evangelical. We are evangelicals and this means we love the Word of God.

Our direction for Lent is to fast, to pray and to give. How will the kingdom of God come on earth? Fast, pray and give. Also, confess our sins. Believing and obeying God’s ways is what will usher in the kingdom of God through our world. It is very simple and yet the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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