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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, February 21, 2010:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Second Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

In this week's Gospel, we go back to the desert with Jesus. We see Jesus tantalized with the very same temptations that try to distract us from our relationship with God.

The first temptation is so basic: basic sustenance. Most of us in the first world find ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of earning money. Why do we earn money? Well, of course, we need to cover our basic needs: food, shelter, clothing. But most of us have far more than we'll ever use. If you're like me, you have a multiple sizes of clothes in your closet, and even if you stayed within one size, you've probably got a month's worth of clothes that you could wear before you'd have to repeat. If you're like me, you've got a month's worth of food in the fridge and pantry, even when it's not hurricane season. If you're like most Americans, you have several cars, several computers, several televisions. Maybe you even have several houses.

And once you have that stuff, your stuff holds you captive. You have to continue to work so that you have a place to put it all. You have to insure it. And then, you might feel you need to replace it all. You can't possibly drive an old car. It's cheaper to buy new than to fix. And so on.

Lately, I've been feeling that when I buy something I don't need, I'm taking it out of the hands of someone truly needy. I tie up my money in my own need for stuff, and then I don't have any to give away to someone who has no belongings. I'm trying to think more about that fact before I buy.

Jesus is then tempted with power, and it's the rare person I've met who doesn't wrestle with questions of status and fame--and the power that comes with it. Even if you wouldn't sell your family or your self to be on reality TV, you've probably felt this temptation--or envy, because you weren't someone getting offers of fame and fortune.

The third temptation shows the danger of succumbing to the second temptation: once we become wealthy and powerful, we're likely to forget that we're not God. We use our money to insulate us, but we forget how fortunate we are to have that money. We begin to think that we earn that money because we're so talented, so capable, so educated--for many of us, the fact that we have one job over another is largely a matter of luck. I got my first real teaching job because no one applied with the credentials to teach Business Writing, which was what they wanted, so they went to the second thing on the wish list, which was someone with a British Lit background, which was me. For someone with a Ph.D. in Literature, I'm always haunted by the fact that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of people out there, many of them with better credentials/publications/experience than me--yet I am employed, and many of them are not. It's a happy accident--well, happy for me--it doesn't have as much to do with my individual skills and talent, as to being at the right place applying at the right time.

In our society, money makes us feel powerful. Fame makes us feel powerful. Acclaim makes us feel powerful. And these temptations take us away from God, where the true power lies. We want to think we can do everything on our own. We want to be like God--all powerful. We need to remember the words of John the Baptist: "I am not the Messiah."

We need to look to the model of our savior, who also wrestled with temptation. We need to be resolute in our refusal.

Perhaps we also need to invite some desert time into our life. As I grow older, I'm more and more fascinated by these brief pictures of Jesus retreating. We, too, need to carve some retreat time into our lives so that we're able to withstand the temptations that the world will hurl at us.

Maybe we can only find a few minutes a day. Start with that. Move towards a time where you take a day off, true Sabbath time, when you will only do what enriches you. Hold as your goal a time when you can go on retreat, whether it be a camping trip, a retreat sponsored by a church group, time at a monastery, or even a time when you tell everyone you'll be out of town and you take a retreat in your house (those of us coping with canceled trips this tough winter could try that consolation prize).

During our retreat time, we could meditate on the words of Jesus, so that we, too, are sustained when we return to regular life: "Man shall not live by bread alone," "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve," "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

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