Sunday, February 17, 2013

Love tests the self

1st Sunday of Lent Year C
17 February 2013
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas

Life is a journey.  Life is a battle.  These are the two great metaphors for story-telling.  You can't tell a story without these metaphors.  Today's Gospel presents third metaphor, which is related to these two and has the ability to join them.  Life is a test.  Now I'm not saying that God created people in order to test them.  Humanity is neither God's experiment nor his entertainment.  We are neither robots nor pawns.  God created out of love, not because he was bored or had to create, but because love gives of itself, love shares of itself, love desires the good of another.  So God created us because he loves us.  Yet he further loves us by training us, allowing us to be challenged and chastised, by testing us  For as we learn in the Gospel of temptation, there is cheap love, and then there is real love.  The testing that God allows does nothing but purify love, and keep us from settling for imitations.  We might not like testing, but it is easier than the alternative, which is the pain of living without real love.  

So Jesus is led not by the devil, but by the Holy Spirit, to be tested in the desert.  Jesus had just emerged from his baptism, and had just heard in a human way the voice of the Father say - this is my beloved son.    Jesus goes to the desert, then, to show us what this status and dignity as a beloved son looks like under extreme circumstances.  The testing of the desert makes love more visible and real to us.  He goes to the desert to be tempted, to show us even when we think we are most alone and vulnerable, we do not lose our status as God's beloved son.  Jesus goes to show us that we are never alone, and so never have to act apart from our dignity as God's beloved.  He goes to show that the world can offer us nothing that we do not already have.

Specifically, Jesus shows us that sensual pleasure adds nothing to who we already are.  Not that sensual pleasure is bad in and of itself.  It is a good and natural part of the human condition.  But when it replaces God, it leaves us weak and empty.  For man lives not from sensual pleasure to sensual pleasure, but upon spiritual words that create real and lasting relationships. (Rom 10:8-13).

Next, Jesus shows us that having control of some part of the world or of our reputation is also an illusion.  We can fight so desperately against vulnerability and dependence, and yet these are the true language of love, and going away from them means going away from our true dignity and security.  Jesus shows that security comes from being known and desired by God, and no kingdom of the world, from the presidency of  a superpower to the wealth of billionaires, to the smallest man-cave, can give a security that God alone can give a person.  We see Jesus alone in control, even though he is completely vulnerable, poor and alone, because his power rests in nothing but God alone.

Finally, Jesus shows us that there is no security in making ourselves the most important person in the world, nor in thinking the world revolves around me.  We either see the world around us through our ego or through our mission.  There are only two ways.  We either judge the world by how it affects me, or we judge it by the opportunity it gives me to focus radically not on myself, but upon God and others. My life is either about me, or about others.  There are only two ways.  Ultimately, love doesn't make itself God by testing God.  Love always tests the self.  The Lord certainly goes before us in this - in the desert he was testing himself to give us an example, out of love for us.  That's what love does.  It even welcomes testing, because it detaches us from ourselves and orients us toward our mission in life.

Pleasure, control, ego.  These are the enemies we are fighting this Lent.  Let us not be afraid to allow ourselves to be tested, not because God told us so, not because the Church says we have to, but because we're not ready yet to give up on ourselves.  Amen.

No comments: