Sunday, February 17, 2013

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent
Feb. 17, 2013
Deut 26: 4-10
Rom 10: 8-13
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt … and became a nation great, strong, and numerous” (Deut 26: 5).
Jacob Meets Esau, by Francesco Hayez
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy is a basic profession of faith for the Israelites within the context of the annual harvest.  It’s a profession about who they are, where they came from, what God has done for them, how they are to respond to his graces.

God took a nomad named Jacob, nicknamed Israel, who wandered the deserts of Aram, i.e., Syria (broadly construed to include Palestine), and God guided this nomad to Egypt, where his offspring prospered.  Then their fortunes were overturned (by a change of dynasty), and they became slaves.

When the people cried to the Lord in their affliction, he came to their rescue and, with a great display of power, led them out of Egypt into “this land flowing with milk and honey” (26:9) thru his chosen instrument, Moses.  On account of all this, the Israelites celebrate the annual harvest by presenting its firstfruits to the Lord and “bowing down in his presence” (26:10).

The last line of the reading, “you shall bow down in his presence,” provides a link to the gospel reading, wherein the Devil suggests that Jesus worship him; Matthew’s version of the temptations even uses the phrase “fall down and worship” or “prostrate yourself and worship” (4:9).

The 2d reading transfers that worship to Jesus himself:  “if you confess that Jesus is Lord…” (Rom 10:9) and offers salvation as the prize to such allegiance (vv. 9,13).

Thus the Romans text points us toward our confession of faith in Jesus risen from the dead for our salvation—toward Easter.

Easter, the Lord’s Passover, the paschal mystery, is the heart of our Christian profession of faith:  “Jesus is Lord and … God raised him from the dead” (10:9).  It tells us who we are, where we’ve come from, what God’s done for us.  It’s our Passover too, and thus the Deuteronomy reading, recalling the mighty deeds by which God thru Moses rescued Israel from oppression, points us toward Easter.  That reading reminds us of our own slavery to the Devil and of our own passing thru water and into the promised land of God’s grace and eternal life because of the “terrifying power, with signs and wonder” (Deut 26:8) displayed by God in the life, passion, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  In his rescue of us, God doesn’t use a 3d-party instrument like Moses but carries out the mission himself.

As the Israelite brings to the Lord “the firstfruits of the products of the soil” in his gratitude for all that the Lord has done for him, the Christian brings her worship to the Lord in Christ.  In our Eucharist day after day we offer God’s own firstfruits:  his firstborn Son, begotten from eternity.  In Paul’s words, God’s firstborn is also “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), the beginning of a very great harvest; in Paul’s words again, “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).  Each day we remember God’s marvelous doings on our behalf and, like the Israelites, become part of the story, part of God’s saving activity.  God delivers us and glorifies us (cf. Ps 91:16).

In the Collect we prayed that “we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ.”  There are Pauline echoes in those words, but in the context of this 1st Sunday of Lent and its readings, we may think of the riches of salvation offered to us in the Promised Land when we’ll have completed our passover from here to hereafter,[1] “confessing that Jesus is Lord and … God raised him from the dead,” and “believing with the heart” (Rom 10:10)—believing with such conviction that we, too, resist all the blandishments and enticements and temptations of the Devil:  “by [our] worthy conduct pursuing the effects” (Collect) of those “riches hidden in Christ.”
Satan Tempts Jesus, by Tissot
In a few moments we’ll pray further that the Lord “give us the right dispositions to make these offerings” (Prayer over the Offerings)—the offering of our bread and wine that will become Christ our Lord, and the offering of ourselves in union with Christ, of ourselves “wholly conformed to the mystery that is Christ”[2] in our worship of the Lord our God alone, in our absolute trust in his power to save us, in our complete submission to God’s will for us.

And there’s our Lenten program of conversion, dear sisters:  to make our self-offering ever more complete, our submission to God ever more complete, our union with Christ ever more total, so that our daily Eucharist may truly be a grateful “bowing down in God’s presence.”

      [1] Cf. Preface of the 1st Sunday of Lent: “…celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery, we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.”
      [2] Daniel J. Merz and Marcel Rooney, OSB, Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts (Chicago: LTP, 2011), p. 43.

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