“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-2, 13)
February 14, 2016
First Sunday of Lent
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“I heard the scream in church that Sunday morning, right while we were singing ‘Balm in Gilead,’ and when I saw the little rascal was missing, I tossed my hymnal on the seat and went looking. I just knew there was going to be another scream real soon if I didn’t catch him fast.”
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Several days before Christmas, we chaplains, six of us that particular morning, gathered for our daily 8:30 AM devotional reflection before dispersing to the many patients requesting a visit. After some moments of silence and sharing of thoughts relevant to the reading, we digressed (as often happened) from prayer into general silliness. This particular morning’s reflection served as a lead-in to Jesse relating the antics of her now-adult son Adam who, as a toddler, had become the terror of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. Nearly doubled over in hysterics just remembering the incident, Jesse struggled for self control as she related what had happened that Sunday morning when Adam turned worship upside down.
“We were only about 20 minutes into the service when I saw Adam getting real antsy,” Jesse related. “I told him to sit quietly in the pew with his coloring book, box of crayons and baggie full of Cheerios. But he was a hyper kind of kid. Then, before I knew it, he was gone. We were singing ‘Balm in Gilead,’ and just as we began the 3rd verse, that high-pitched scream stopped everything. I knew it was him, just knew it! So I went looking.
“I found him crawling along the floor 5 rows back, slithering under the pews in search of his newest fascination — women’s nylon stockings. That’s right! He took a liking to my own a week ago and has been walking around the house with one of them over his head ever since. I think it’s the silky feel that caught him. Anyway, tired of Sunday worship, he went looking for women’s stockings. And found them 5 rows back when he began stroking the leg of a woman whose mind was otherwise set on Jesus. Oh my goodness, her scream!
“I grabbed the boy and dashed out of that church and didn’t go back for a few weeks. I was beyond embarrassed. How do you explain to the minister and the congregation that I have a toddler who likes to fondle stockinged legs? I was so sure back then that I was raising a child who was going to be a womanizer and a criminal. Praise be Jesus, he turned out alright as a grown man!”
A toddler’s innocent mischief that a mother, once undone, can now remember in fond humor and relate in rocking hilarity: I imagine every mother with now grown children harbors the memory of similar comedic tales. But how quickly the innocence of a toddler matures into childhood pranks no longer quite as blameless, then into infuriating teenage defiance, and finally into the ability for cognizant adult wrong-doing. Yes, it’s humanity’s destiny to grow, even into the capacity for sin.
It was also Jesus’ destiny — to become just like us in all things (save for sin). Surely Jesus was a mischievous toddler, a childhood prankster, an infuriating teenager, and finally an adult matured into a full capacity for sin.
In the gospel passage we hear today, St. Luke writes, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-2, 13)
Just like us, Jesus experienced the taunting hunger of temptation. He experienced the same mental gymnastics we go through when faced by a tantalizing opportunity to sin. The difference is that we often give in while Jesus held out. The skirmish between Jesus and the devil ended, but the war wasn’t yet won for, as the gospel passage relates, the devil was not through tempting Jesus — nor is he through with us.
Consider a tale from ancient Jewish literature that illustrates the devil’s continuing machinations, his incessant attempts to lead us astray:
“Alexander the Great conquered the world. He found a stream whose waters bestowed the spirit of life. He followed it to the source, and discovered the Garden of Eden. ‘Open the gate!’ [he demanded]. Angels answered, ‘This is the Gate for the Lord, only the righteous may enter.’ [Proclaimed the conqueror,] ‘I am a great king, Alexander of Macedon!’ [The angels responded,] ‘Have you brought peace to the world that you should be called great?’ [Alexander answered,] ‘Please give me something so that I may prove I reached the Gate of the Lord.’ They gave him an eye.
“It sat heavily in his sack. With every step [homeward] it grew heavier. When he reached his palace, he weighed it against an ingot of silver. The eye was heavier. He added more silver, and then gold. Bar after bar of gold, and still the eye tipped the scale.
“Alexander sought out the Sages of Israel. ‘What is this?’ he asked. [They responded,] ‘It is the eye of man that is never satisfied with any amount of silver or gold.’ [Alexander asked,] ‘Can you prove this?’ They removed all the silver and gold from the scale, took a few specks of dust and covered the pupil of the eye. Immediately it was outweighed.” (“Accidental Talmudist,” adapted from Tamid 32b, B. Talmud)
“It is the eye of man that is never satisfied.” It begins so innocently, as Jesse stated: “I found Adam crawling along the floor 5 rows back, slithering under the pews in search of his newest fascination — women’s nylon stockings.”
It’s true: the human eye will never be satisfied. Not if it seeks its treasure on earth.