BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted regularly 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.
1st Sunday of Lent | February 18, 2018
So a week ago, I was walking through a small village in Benin when we came upon a group of small children, ranging in ages from 2-8.
There is something magical about children.
How a simple game of tossing fruit can bring peals of laughter.
How high fives involve dozens of kids jumping in a heap, smiling from ear to ear.
But as I stared into these faces radiant with joy, I was struck by a painful truth. The bulk of these children will die before their eighteenth birthday.
They will die of hunger and unclean drinking water.
They will die of diseases that we know how to prevent or cure.
And as I watched them play, I was struck by how little they truly have. These are children who only know want, who will never rest in the security that their basic needs are met. These are children who will pass through this world that will ignore the fact that they even existed. They will never be celebrated or honored, mourned or remembered beyond the confines of a small village. And they will always remain powerless. Powerless to change the dismal reality of what their future potentially holds.
They have no choice, but to place themselves at the mercy of a world that too often destroys the most vulnerable among us.
Which is why this gospel is so unsettling to me.
For Jesus has a choice.
With each temptation, he could have chosen to escape the path that those children must walk.
He could have met his needs and filled his stomach with bread.
He could have sought the esteem and honor of the nations. He could have had the adulation of the people and the respect of the authorities of his day.
He could have seized control of his destiny, darting away from the dangers and pitfalls that awaited him.
But he didn’t.
On the contrary, he chose to become like those children. Vulnerable and at the mercy of a world that too often destroys its own. A world that would ultimately nail him to a tree.
And in so doing, Jesus made it abundantly clear what it would mean to be his disciple.
We too would need to cast our lot with the vulnerable. We would need to become vulnerable.
My friends, this week begins another season of Lent. And I am convinced that this season is designed to shake us to the core. To force us to reorient our lives so that we can truly see the world as Christ sees it, to walk our path as Christ walked it.
And yet we too often allow this season to drift on by as we remain trapped in our routines, as we succumb to our own temptations.
But what if this year we didn’t.
What if this year we decided to truly follow Christ into the no man’s land. Into the barren desert where the children of Benin live.
What if our fasting was such that we radically reduced our consumption so that others could benefit. What if we cut our food bill in half and made weekly donations to combat hunger. What if we reduced our water consumption in half to conserve this life giving resource. What if we spent more to purchase products that were fair trade and what if we refused to buy the newest. luxury that we don’t need. What if we emptied our closets, shelves and pantries for the sake of another?
What if we gave not just from our surplus, but from our lack. What if we gave of our time to man the soup kitchen line, tutor the inner city child, visit the abandoned in the nursing home or advocate for the refugees arriving on our shore. What if we gave of our abundant wealth to immunize our children, feed our hungry, shelter our homeless and treat our addicted? Knowing that there may not be either time or wealth left over for us.
What if we pledged to stand by the vulnerable by first going to them. Befriending the poor and marginalized in our midst. Eating with them, praying with them, visiting them, dialoguing with them, and advocating for them. Until every child of our same loving God is fed, educated, healed and loved.
As a mentor of mine once said, you say you love the poor. Name them.
Maybe this season of Lent, we will have the courage to learn the names and stories of those on the edges barely holding on.
Maybe we will have the courage to strive to build a world in which our brothers and sisters will experience the blessings we have in abundance.
Maybe we will have the courage to give life to the children of Benin, to the children of Chester and everywhere in between.
Our journey to the desert begins my friends. May our lives and the lives of the poor be transformed in the process.
May God be praised.