Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent

2 Corinthians 6:1-10 / Matthew 4:1-11

Hunger, it has been said, is the greatest threat to health and life. More children die from starvation, directly or indirectly, some three out of every five deaths, than from any other cause. Said differently, by recent estimates, one child dies every five seconds, over six million every year, die as a result of starvation. Including adults, the figure is more sobering. Every second, someone in the world dies from lack of food, or complications arising from starvation, over thirty-six million each year. As true as it is that not by bread alone does man live, the absence of bread is surely an affliction. If we remain deaf to the cries of the hungry, if we draw back from aid to the poor nations of the world for what the world regards as "religious scruples" about contraception, abortion or sterilization, of the freedom of Christians to proclaim the Gospel without fear of reprisal, would it still be truly said that we give offense to no one or that our ministry may not be blamed?

The temptations of our Lord in the wilderness, while endured for our sake, are nonetheless not uniquely Christ's. We, in our pilgrimage on earth, in our own wanderings in the desert, face them as surely as the Israelites faced them and failed in their wanderings. We have before us, perhaps in our own cities, even in our own lives, but assuredly in the world as a whole, mouths that need to be fed while we have no evident, righteous means of feeding them. We, too, face the Adversary's offer, to make common cause with the world and its values, to compromise our single-hearted loyalty to God alone and to his good pleasure, demanding of us acquiescence or silence absent a prodigious display of divine power to convict the world and demonstrate the truth of our confession. The need is great, and the world seems equipped to offer us all the resources we need in abundance to heal the many, real outrages inflicted upon the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

We know we must refuse, but do we know why? We do ourselves no great favor by thinking that the Christian hope is simply that we must do good whatever may come, even to the point of permitting real and irreparable harm to fall upon our fellow men. No, Christ's victory over Satan came not from a Stoic allegiance to what is right and a steely dispassionate soul in face of the troubles of the world. Rather, his victory came because he was already full, full of a joy and bliss of which every partial, earthly joy, including every bite of food, is merely a foretaste. The vision of God, which Christ enjoyed and to which we are called, is not, in short, merely additive to the other goods we require or crave. It is not an invitation to a wonderful vacation which, however lovely, still leaves the rent and the utilities bills unpaid. It is the glorious and sovereign good which we have been seeking our whole lives, the possession of which stills all our yearning and fills the very least portion of our selves with an overflowing bliss and satiety. So wonderful is that life in the Triune God already inaugurated in us in Baptism, that even now, it remains unassailable even in the presence of great ills, of body-breaking and soul-stilling evils that assault us. In Paul's words, to be a Christian is to be as dying, and behold, we live, as chastised but not killed, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor yet enriching many, as having nothing yet possessing all things.

Keeping our eyes on the inexhaustible bounty we already possess in Christ, a bounty which is not lost even in the worst our bodies and souls can endure, what allure can the tawdry trinkets of the devil have over us?

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