HOMILY: Into the Desert

1st Sunday of Lent | March 5, 2017

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

Several years ago, when I first entered the Oblates, I remember listening to one of my formators talk about this Gospel.

And what he shared has stuck with me up to this present day.

He said, every person struggles to some degree with each of these temptations that Christ had to struggle with. But one of the temptations will usually hit closer to home.

The 1st temptation is the belief that we can be totally safe, comfortable and secure. Like rocks that magically turn into bread, we can magically summon a safety blanket that will protect us from anything and everything that life might throw at us.

​We won’t ever get hurt.

​We won’t ever suffer.

​We won’t ever need anything.

The 2nd temptation is the belief that we can be in total control. That we too can command the legions of angels to sweep us out of thin air.

​We will never fail.

​We will always get our way.

​The world will run according to our vision and plan.

And then the 3rd temptation. The one that hits way too close to home. Which is the belief that we can get everyone to like us.

That like the adoring nations bowing down before our God, we too will stand on the pinnacle as we are acclaimed, adored and loved.

Ever since that day, I have been acutely aware of the power of these temptations and the influence they hold upon my own life.

For in many ways, I have entered two very dangerous professions for someone who wants everyone to like them.

For what teacher does not want the universal acclaim of his or her students?

And even though I have had so many positive interactions with students over the years, my ego immediately recalls those few moments in which I was not liked.

​Maybe if you had not failed him, he would still like you.

But he didn’t do any work, despite the fact that you sent it home weekly.

​What is more important . . . his academic success or him liking you?

Countless times, I have run these hypothetical conversations in my head. And though the answer may seem so obvious, the temptation still remains so strong.

​And then as a priest, the temptation is even worse.

Because every week, I need to stand before a congregation and preach the Word. And sometimes the Word makes us uncomfortable. When it questions our patterns of thinking, when it shakes up the way we are living. When it does not fit into our ready made political categories.

And then I brace myself for my worst fear. Which is that someone will no longer like me.

​That I will have offended them. Upset them. Angered them.

I wait for the inevitable backlash that I am sure will come. You’re a communist. You’re a heretic. You’re going to hell. Stop preaching your politics. The list goes on and on.

Yes, my friends, these temptations are real and they are powerful.

But as we begin this Lenten journey, I take comfort in the fact that Jesus began his journey grappling with the same dynamics. For he too realized that he could not accomplish his calling on earth if he was shackled by these temptations.

He too had to gradually accept that he would not always be safe and secure.

That he would experience violence and cruelty. That he would be stripped of everything and exposed naked to the world.

And in turn, that made him compassionate towards those who never felt safe or comfortable.

​The leper. The widow. The paralytic lying on the road.

He too had to gradually accept that he would not always be in control.

That his disciples would not understand him. That his followers would misinterpret his purpose. That the religious leaders would plot against him. That the Roman government that would condemn him. That the people would abandon him.

​And in turn that made him compassionate towards those who were never in control.

​The blind man. The man possessed by a demon. The family of Lazarus

And he too had to gradually accept that not everyone would like him.

That he would bear the hatred of jealous contemporaries, fearful authorities, and persuadable mobs.

​And in turn that made him compassionate towards those that no one liked

​The woman at the well. Zaccaeus in a tree. The woman caught in adultery.

So let us follow the path of our Savior into the desert. Let us too grapple with the power of the temptations of our own ego. And as we slowly overcome them, may we too become more compassionate. May we too follow the calling that our God has bestowed upon us.

So that we may better reflect the image of God in whose likeness we are made.

May God be Praised.

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