Homily for February 17, 2013 (1st Sunday in Lent: FASTING ): Fr. Scott Bullock

February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Dt 26:4-10

Responsorial Psalm Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading 2 Rom 10:8-13

Gospel Lk 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and:
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.


The Lenten Practice of Fasting—Making Room for God.

A man walked into the pub and promptly ordered three beers. The bartender raised his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drank quietly at a table, alone. An hour later, the man had finished the three beers and ordered three more. The next evening the man again ordered and drank three beers at a time, several times. Soon the entire town was whispering about the “Man Who Orders Three Beers.”

Finally, a week later, the bartender broached the subject on behalf of the town. “I don’t mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers.” ‘Tis odd, isn’t it?” the man replids, “You see, I have two brothers, and one went to South America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always drink another beer for the others, as a way of keeping up the family bond.”

The bartender and soon the whole town was pleased with this answer, and soon the “Man Who Orders Three Beers” became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink.

Then, one day, the man came in and ordered only two beers. The bartender poured them with a heavy heart. This continued for the rest of the evening – he orders only two beers. The word flew around town. Prayers were offered for the soul of one of the brothers. The next day, the bartender said to the man, “Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all…”The man ponders this for a moment, then replied, “You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well… It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

Food and Lent—forever associated together. We start and end Lent by community acts of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many times, we choose to “give up” some favorite consumable—food or drink. On Fridays of Lent, we choose to narrow and limit what we eat, refraining from all meet except fish. Why all this focusing on what we consume?  Does it really matter that much?

It goes back to Jesus’ Lenten plan that he lays out for us in today’s gospel—so we can model our penitential season on Jesus’ own 40 days in the desert, through which he prepares for his work of traveling through his land to teach the Gospel of God’s love.

Jesus himself chooses to fast, to renounce food for 40 days, leading to his first temptation: “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone [but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Mt. 4:4).

Essentially, Jesus is saying, we cannot live as if that which we consume is a God (“I can’t live without it.”), for only God is God, and God alone is true life. Sure, we can try it (and haven’t we?), but we will be frustrated, as we have discovered over and over again.  After that meal, I’m still hungry. After that drink, I want more. After one hour before the TV or the internet, I’m still searching . . .

Do we believe this, that only God will sustain me?   I think we’ve all known that moment when some sensual pleasure, that is something in creation that is a pleasure to our senses, has become almost God-like, that we must have it! I need that piece of cake. I need that glass of wine. I need to look at that on the internet.

The call is to honesty—have these pleasures become a false God? Or, have we deceived ourselves into thinking that we’re really not that dependent or attached to them?  Like the man who was allegedly drinking for his brothers, when it actually for him; have we become dependent on things that cannot satisfy us? The problem with these:  as Bob Dylan famously sang, “You’ve gotta serve someone.”  In other words, these sensual pleasures, as they approach the God-like, actually become idolatry and we serve them instead of the creator. The created blocks out the creator and takes God’s place.

So, Jesus’ pattern for the Lenten season begins this way:  First, examine the sensual pleasures of food, drink, and whatever else attracts us, and may turn our gaze from God. The good news of Jesus is this:  while these things can not satisfy us— Jesus offers us what can fulfill us—God’s life-giving word.  He is this life-giving word. So, FIRST we practice during this season going without even good things through fasting—not only of food but, drink, and anything else that so dominates our life that it can become God-like and block out God. And THEN, we turn to the life-giving word of God, freely and unimpaired by the perils of self-deception, to the One who can fill the deepest longing of our hearts, a longing that can only, finally, and fully be  filled by the creator of all things, our God.

The good news is this:  God wants to satisfy us.  Fasting is clearing away false gods to make room for the only One who can satisfy.  Let’s make room for the true God.