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Friday, March 04, 2011

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2)

Reaching Out 

 March 13, 2011
First Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4:1-11  Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Another Lent has begun, and for us Catholics who have observed too many Lenten seasons to be counted, there comes the challenge to make this one – Lent 2011 – really count. And it being that special time to unburden one’s soul both to God and neighbor, I have to admit that I long ago stopped “giving up” something for Lent because it never “worked,” meaning simply that I was never strong enough to persist in whatever it was from which I was fasting or refraining. Then I thought to take on some Lenten practice that might call me from my selfishness. Same result – too weak to persist for 40 days. But I don’t want to give up on myself, either, because God hasn’t given up on me. I want to try anew to be better. And just as I quietly made this a pre-Lenten prayer, God dropped right into my lap a story that gives me renewed incentive. National Public Radio regularly presents first-person narratives that offer inspiration, and it was such a one, entitled “A Victim Treats His Mugger Right,” that challenges me this Lent. I share that story with you.

“Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner. But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn. He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife. ‘He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, “Here you go,"’ Diaz says.

“As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.’ The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, ‘like what's going on here?’ Diaz says. ‘He asked me, “Why are you doing this?"’ Diaz replied, ‘If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner, and if you want to join me, you're more than welcome.’ “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help.”

“Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth. ‘The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,’ Diaz says. ‘The kid was like, “You know everybody here. Do you own this place?” ‘No, I just eat here a lot,’ Diaz says he told the teen. ‘He says, “But you're even nice to the dishwasher.’ Diaz replied, ‘Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?’ ‘Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way,’ the teen said. Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. ‘He just had a sad face,’ Diaz says.

“The teen couldn't answer Diaz — or he didn't want to. When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, ‘Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill because you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you.’ The teen didn't even think about it and returned the wallet, Diaz says. ‘I gave him $20; I figure maybe it'll help him. I don't know.’ Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen's knife — ‘and he gave it to me.’

“Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, ‘You're the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you’d gave him your watch.’ ‘I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world.’"(NPR, March 28, 2008)

In the gospel passage we hear on this First Sunday of Lent, we find Jesus wrestling with the same devilish voice that so often disturbs our tranquility. St. Matthew writes, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2) I guess the big difference, though, is that the temptations Jesus endured subsided after 40 days. Ours only subside with our last earthly breath. But that’s not the point. Rather, the lesson is this: Jesus knows well the demons we each wrestle with, and, stronger than all of them, he’s promised to be at our side and on our side as we struggle on.

To be just like Julio Diaz is my Lenten resolution this year. I want to have a heart just like his when people make demands of me that “push my buttons,” that is, when almost anybody wants almost anything that disturbs my walled world of comfortability. While I’ve never been mugged at knife-point like Julio, I just know I’d not have acted as he did. I’d probably have tried foolishly to fight the mugger off. And you can be darn sure I’d not have given him my coat and then bought him dinner! But it’s what Julio did, and I’m thinking it’s what Jesus would have done too.

The gospel passage we hear today is a Lenten challenge for each of us. St. Matthew writes, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2) Yes, Jesus was famished. The struggle with temptation is exhausting.

The young mugger who took Julio’s wallet at knife-point was also famished. Julio saw it in the teen’s despairing eyes; saw the exhaustion that had driven the mugger to this moment. Julio gave him his coat and took him to dinner.

And so Jesus does for us, we whose desperation may be not so far from that young mugger’s. “Come to the table,” Jesus invites. “I know how hard you struggle to do the right. Come to the table and rest a bit with me.”

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