Jesus Our Shepherd
Luke 4:1-13
1st Sunday In Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil. During that time Jesus ate nothing, and at the end of it faced hunger. The devil said to Jesus, “If you come from God, command this stone to turn into bread.” Jesus answered, “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone will we live.’”

Then the devil took Jesus up higher and showed him all the nations of the world in a single instant. The devil said, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these nations. The power has been given to me, and I will give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me and it will all be yours.” In reply Jesus said, “Scripture has it, ‘You will do homage to God alone; God alone will you adore.’”

Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem, set him up on the parapet of the Temple, and said, “If you come from God, throw yourself down from here, for Scripture has it, ‘God will bid the angels watch over you,’ and again, ‘With their hands they will support you that you may never stumble on a stone.’” Jesus said in reply, “Scripture also says, ‘You will not put the Most High to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, Jesus was left alone. The devil awaited another opportunity. The Good News of Salvation!

Homily for 29 February January 2004
Rev. Frank Baiocchi

Today’s Gospel is about temptations. Everyone is tempted at one time or another. It’s simply a part of the human condition we all experience.

The story is told of the CEO of Tyson Foods Corporation who managed to arrange a meeting with the pope at the Vatican. After receiving the pope’s blessing, the CEO whispered into the pope’s ear that Tyson Foods was prepared to donate $100 million to the church if the pope would change the words of the Our Father from “give us this day our daily bread” to “give us this day our daily chicken.” Of course the pope told the CEO that was impossible because that was a sacred prayer that simply could not be changed.

The CEO countered, “Your holiness, we anticipated your reluctance to change these words. For this reason we will increase our offer to $300 million! All we require of you is the simple decree to change the words from “bread” to “chicken.” Again the pope replied, “My son, this is impossible, for the prayer comes from Jesus himself. I cannot change it.”

Finally, the CEO declared, “We at Tyson Foods respect your fidelity to that prayer, but we have one final offer. We will donate $500 million dollars – that’s half a billion dollars! – to the Catholic Church if only you would make that one small change. Please consider it.” Then the CEO left the premises.

The next morning, the pope called the College of Cardinals together for an extraordinary session. When they were all assembled, he addressed them directly, announcing, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the Roman Catholic Church has recently gained $500 million in revenue.” An elderly cardinal then raised his voice and asked, “Your holiness, what is the bad news?” The pope replied sadly, “We are losing the Wonder Bread account.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Some backgroundmay be helpful. The Mediterranean world in Jesus’ time and even today lives by a deeply rooted belief in the world of evil spirits or devils. According to these people, these spirits are plentiful and frequently interfere in daily life. The people believe that the color blue will protect them from these pesky devils. So window frames and doors are often painted blue to keep the devil-spirits outside the walls of their homes. Native people living there today still wear blue ribbons or garments precisely for this reason.

The last verses of Luke before this morning’s Gospel featured the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Remember, that’s where the voice from heaven identified Jesus as “my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Now it was believed that all the spirits in the neighborhood heard this compliment, so every Mediterranean native (and the Jewish people are Mediterranean) knew what had to happen next. These evil spirits, these devils, wouldl soon test him to find out whether or not that voice from heaven was truthful. And just in case it might be true, a devil will try to make Jesus do something displeasing to God. So Luke draws out this desert encounter to satisfy our curiosity. Jesus does engage in battle with the devil and outduels that evil, Scripture-quoting spirit nicely, doesn’t he? Jesus, it turns out, passes the test. He is the real thing – God’s Beloved One!

As the pope was tempted, as Jesus was tempted, so are we. But we too have resources upon which to rely. Our familiarity with Jesus in prayer, in Scripture reading and by personal experience will help us make the right decisions. Temptations are part of our human condition. They should never surprise us. They challenge us to be true to God, to be true to ourselves. And If we really love Jesus as much as we say we do, we wont even have to wear or paint anything blue!