Struggling With The Mission: Rev. Judy’s Homily For The First Sunday In Lent

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We begin the Lenten Season this First Sunday by joining Jesus in the desert as he struggles against the “temptations” that could destroy the mission and ministry he is about to begin. There are prototypes here for all of the struggles in the desert that we too face.

The readings for the day are beautiful in metaphor and meaning. They can be difficult to understand. They are not meant as literal historic or scientific happenings but are packed full of many essential meanings described in poetry, story, idiom, imagery and metaphor.  In the Genesis reading and the Gospel, temptation is faced. But, it is far too easy to say they are about dealing with temptation. They are about choice and discerning and accepting God’s work, mission, for us in building the kin-dom, the reign of God’s presence here on earth. The Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) is about Jesus and his wrestling with how he would announce and bring about the kin-dom. They are about what we do with God’s affirmation and how hard it is to enact and live the Gospel once we understand it. They are about our own deserts and accepting our callings.

In the first reading, Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 humanity is created by the very breath or spirit of God, and given all of creation to enjoy, work in and care for as well as the choice to do what is right or to choose the “wrong” path where evil is encountered. Wow! For me, this is a “selah” moment, a moment to pause and appreciate what God has done.

Yet, with this gift of choice we can choose good or evil for all of our days. The Epistle, Romans 5:12-19, contrasts Christ, who discerned and enacted God’s love and justice even when it cost everything he had, and Adam who all too easily chose what he knew to be wrong (and then blamed it on Eve who blamed it on the poor serpent). From Adam, in being human, we inherit a propensity for good and for evil, for sometimes making death- dealing instead of life giving choices while from Jesus we learn what life giving choices are and gain life now and forever.  Wow! Another “selah” moment, to pause and appreciate what God has done through Christ.

The Gospel story according to the writer of Matthew takes place right after Jesus’ baptism where Jesus experiences God’s loving affirmation in a way that is beyond words to tell. Jesus knows that he is chosen, affirmed and deeply loved by God. (Matt 3:17). “Then he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted…” (Matt 4:1). In the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures imagery and metaphor are dramatically used (Errico, Let There Be Light). The phrase “led by the Spirit” usually means “had a dream or vision”.  In Aramaic the word “tempted” means to be tried out, much like a new horse would be tried out. So Jesus is trying out his mission as the one who is chosen and, in essence, discerning what it will be and how he will enact it.  The imagery of the desert is appropriate for such discernment. I have been in the remaining desert area in Israel and it is endless sand, hills of sand and endless valleys and surfaces of dry sand.  There would be no temples or parapets to jump off of and certainly there would be nothing to eat-not even the cacti that exist in the American deserts. The word “devil” or “satan” in Aramaic is “deceiver” or “to lead astray” and it does not mean a supernatural being or force. Jesus prayed, reflected, wrestled and dreamed and wrestled again with deceptive notions of who he was and could be, of power and of mission.

In this trying period of discernment (the idiom 40 days is used much in the scriptures and means a period of trials) Jesus turned his back on doing tricks like turning stones into bread instead of the very hard work of ministering to the poor, the sick and the outcast in need of healing and inclusion. He also turned his back on religious power-he would not become the head of the established religion but he would question, clarify, and challenge what had become of the Law’s intent and the covenant between God and God’s people. When necessary he would take on the establishment and they would respond with a vengeance.  Similarly Jesus turned away from the appeal of becoming a political leader with “all the kingdoms” at his feet. The reign of God was not a material or political reign as much as some wanted this. Jesus would show us what the reign of God could be.  It would cost him his life. Jesus agonized and clarified what he was about and what his ministry and mission would be. In essence, in the desert experience Jesus agonized over accepting the cup long before he prayed tears like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane after the last supper. The poor and outcast would welcome him and love him, but we all know the end of the story. Jesus had to know that, unlike the tempting paths of personal, religious and political power, what he was about to do using the power and authority to change human lives would cost him everything. But he was ultimately not tempted to abort the mission God had given him. He would show us how to love, and enact inclusion and justice, no matter what it cost.  When Jesus finished this trying period of discernment in the desert, he began his ministry. He preached “turn your lives back to God”.  In Luke he defined his mission as “preaching the good news to the poor….” He healed the sick, welcomed the stranger, included women and foreigners and showed us how to live the Good News. Through him we are all grafted into the tree of life and we are asked to follow him,to DO what he did.

I think that all of us who want to follow Jesus have agonized at some time over this calling. I know I have. Each and every one of us who wants to follow Christ has a unique gift to give different from the others. But the common ground is putting those gifts at the service of God’s people and building the kin-dom.  I have served God’s people most of my life using my experiences and my training as a clinical social worker and teacher of social workers and pastors who wanted to serve and counsel the poor, the homeless, the outcast and those who faced the demons of mental illness, addictions and many aspects of physical and spiritual dying. Yet in the helping professions and in one’s every- day life one can legitimately take time off and time out. One can always take vacations and rest from this work or change jobs. But when one does it pastorally  and sacramentally another level of self- giving is involved. Like Jesus, all is given. Yes, Jesus wants us to go aside and rest for a while or we will truly burn out like falling stars. But we are the face of Christ to the world and only the grace of God enables that face to be smiling when we too are tired and overwhelmed at the constant need and the unending nature of injustice and pain before us. My particular call is to be a priest and pastor of and with the poor.  I became a priest not to wear robes and serve at a high altar, but to serve at the altar of broken lives, especially those broken by poverty and oppression in addition to life’s other blows. I wanted to open up the alabaster jars of sacraments and make them available to all.(Susan Ross elaborates on this task in her book  Extravagant Affections: A Feminist Sacramental Theology).  I can never turn my back on this call and instead sometimes have to turn my back on the kinds of things Jesus was tempted with: human hungers, magic powers, and power in institutions religious or otherwise. I knew a little of how hard all of this is when I accepted ordination, but almost six years later I know it is only by God’s grace, and not one’s own powers, that one can do it at all. Thank God for this grace.

This is the first four stanzas from a poem that I wrote when I was in my desert discerning this call to priesthood and ministry:

I Accept The Cup

It is ringing in my heart-

Bob Marley say

“No woman, no cry,

Drinkin’ from the

Cup of pain and sorrow,

Love will heal it all”.

 

Yes, there is Love

And there is

Pain and sorrow.

To walk the road

Of Love and serve

You gotta take the cup.

 

I said, Lord, I know

That cup, don’t ask

Me to drink from it

Again, don’t show me                   

Their hurt and pain

And tell me they’re

Dyin on the street

Right here and now,

An don’t add to it

My sisters in hospice,

Don’t tell me to tend

Death again with you.

Give me some of that

Joy instead, don’t let

Me walk among the

Living dead.

 

And God said

They ain’t dead yet,

To walk my road and

Serve Love,

You gotta take the cup…”

After much trying discernment I did joyfully and willingly take the cup. I renew that vow every Sunday when I finish the cup. I love my people, our ministry and my life. But I know a little of what Jesus did in the desert. And so do you. May God guide you and love you in your desert times.

Love and Blessing,

Pastor Judy Lee

Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Commjunity

Fort Myers, Florida

                                  

2 responses to “Struggling With The Mission: Rev. Judy’s Homily For The First Sunday In Lent”

  1. evangelizadorasdelosapostoles says :

    Gracias, Judy: muy buena reflexión.muy buena foto. Que todo sea para la gloria de la Esencia Divina.
    Bendiciones.

    Olga Lucia

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