Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jesus in the desert

1st Sunday of Lent Year C 2016:
As we begin this season of Lent, we begin this first Sunday by hearing about Jesus’ time in the desert.  I think the barren desert is a good representation for Lent, because Lent is a time of purification and fasting.  But, I was reading a book by Pope Benedict the other day and he mentioned that the symbolism of the desert is more than just the symbolism of fasting.  Rather, he calls the desert a symbol for life without God.  Think about it.  The desert has no water.  It has little life.  It can be harsh and cruel.  Pope Benedict said that this describes pretty well what happens to the human race after the fall of Adam and Eve.  The human race is wandering in a vast desert without life-giving water.  When Adam and Eve turned away from God, they led us all into that desert. 
            But, Jesus Christ goes into the desert in the Gospel today.  He goes out there because that is where we are.  Jesus goes into the desert to find us.  Don’t be afraid to let Jesus find you this Lent.  Don’t be afraid to open your hearts and minds to him and to his love.  Jesus is out in the desert and he is searching for us.
            Now, the desert is also a place of testing.  In our wanderings around without God, we are tested and we fail.  But, when Jesus comes out into the desert of human experience, he is tested and he overcomes the temptations.  How many of us can say that we always overcome our temptations?  Not me, I can tell you.  So, when I hear about Jesus overcoming temptations, I see a new kind of hope.  No longer are we alone out here in the desert, but Jesus comes with power to aid us in the struggle of our lives.  Just let this story sit with you.  No matter what your struggle, whether it be a struggle against sin or some other difficulty in our lives, it might feel like it gets the better of us.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Let this Lent be the year that Christ finds you.  Let this Lent be the year that he helps you overcome your temptations.  Don’t let fear, anxiety, or sinfulness weigh you down.  Christ is out there looking for you.
            I mentioned on Ash Wednesday that this is a special Lent because it takes place during the Year of Mercy.  It’s the mercy of God that sent Jesus into that desert.  And it’s the mercy of God that wants to heal and strengthen each one of us.
            During this year of mercy, I think we should all try to become more merciful as well.  This week we are focusing on the spiritual work of mercy of “forgiving offenses.”  I certainly know from my own experience that forgiveness is hard.  It can be really difficult to be a person who forgives.  But, forgiveness can be a life-changing event.  As I said, Christ comes out in the desert to find us who are wandering around.  He comes with mercy for the sinner.  He comes with strength to set us free from our own temptations.  So, God comes in search of us with healing and strength, it’s up to us to bring that same healing and strength to others.  If we love and appreciate the mercy of Christ who forgives us, we can do nothing better than to forgive others.
            So, how do we forgive?  I’m no expert.  I’m learning also.  But, I think forgiveness begins with an experience of being forgiven.  When was the last time you asked for forgiveness?  When was the last time you went to confession?  When was the last time you asked a family member for forgiveness?  If we want to be forgiving, we first need to be forgiven.  Second, we need to be able to let go of the hurts that offenses cause.  Look at all Jesus went through.  Today he’s out there in the desert, he is rejected, betrayed, scourged, crucified.  He is completely innocent, and he goes through all of that.  Remember his response to the people attacking him: Father forgive them, they know not what they do.  If it was me up there on the cross, I’d say: Father, attack them with lightening bolts from heaven.  Not Christ, why?  His heart was full of love, he doesn’t hold on to our offenses.  He forgives.  Notice those people at the foot of the cross weren’t even asking for forgiveness.  Yet he forgives.  Do you have the courage to do that?  Can you forgive even when people hurt you, even when you are offended, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness?  If you can, you will experience peace and serenity even during trying times.  If you can’t, you will find that the pain and hurt you have felt will stay with you.

            I think we all want that peace and serenity that Christ had on the cross.  Wouldn’t we love to be able to return offense with love and forgiveness.  But, it’s so hard sometimes.  Don’t worry, Jesus is out there looking for you.  He wants to help you in your weakness.  This week, ask him for help in forgiving others.  Ask him for forgiveness.  Ask him for that heart of forgiveness that he has.  And if that seems too tough, ask him for the ability to want to be able to forgive.  If that’s too tough, ask him for the ability to want, to want to forgive.  Jesus is in the desert looking for you.  Let him find you.  Open your heart to his mercy so you can be merciful in return.