At the Foot of the Cross

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

His ministry began and ended with wine. This is something that I never considered. The gospel of John has only record of His first miracle. Water transformed into wine. It was the best wine the steward had tasted. On the Cross, the people gave Him sour wine in return. The transaction was complete. “It is finished.” Now, we wait for Him. We wait and see what God is going to do. We have taken the best from Him and in return we gave Him the Cross. What can we expect from God? Do we deserve anything good from Him?

Perhaps we might think that we are different from the people who jeered and mocked Him at the Cross. We like to think that we are better than them. I believe that the people who heard the final words of Jesus wished that they had been better. They wished that they had remained the crowd that shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and not become the crowd that demanded, “Crucify Him.” Alas, they were the same and one crowd. We are just like them. We have the potential to welcome God joyously into our hearts and at the same we can murder Him with our words and actions. We are no different from those people. They are us and we are them. We are saints and devils at the same time. We can do despicable things believing that we are doing something good. Then we take refuge in our intentions. We claim that we had good intentions. The people who crucified Jesus had good intentions. The religious leaders believed that it was necessary to kill Jesus for the sake of the nation. Everyone had good intentions. It was not enough. At the foot of the Cross, all this becomes clear. One thing is for certain we cannot remain as we are. Something needs to change. How many times are we going to crucify the One that can truly transform our contradictory souls?

There were those who wept for Him at the Cross. They were the strong ones and yet, they were helpless. They knew what was right, but they could not do anything about it. They could not speak. Their voices would have been silenced by the anger and hatred. They could only weep. They thought that they were lamenting all the things He suffered; His humiliation, His tortures, the cruel mocking and the treacherous treatment from the people whom He loved. He who hung on the Cross corrected them.

Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. Luke 23:28

At the foot of the Cross, all our frailty is revealed. All our illusions are shattered. All theories of us being essentially good lose their foundation. We are not evil and we are not good. We are just lost. We destroy the things that can save us and uphold things that contaminate and poison our souls. We cannot keep our focus on the good because we just don’t know how to recognize it. Those who are able to see goodness are often helpless. The truth is we are all helpless. No one wants to be evil, but we end up in the middle of something evil and we cannot resist it. The Only One who could resist was crucified. He had a choice but he accepted the Cross. It was necessary. He wanted us to realize who we are. We are not evil beings. In some ways, we are much worse. We are people who believe in goodness but seem to do the contrary. At the foot of the Cross, this becomes clear at the moment when He said, “It is Finished.”

These are strange words but they moved the heart of a seasoned soldier. In His death, the centurion saw Jesus’ victory. He proclaimed,

“Truly this Man was the Son of God.” Mark 15:39

It was a title given in ancient times to emperors and great conquerors. A centurion who knew that victory means the defeat and humiliation of one’s enemies proclaimed Jesus as a victor at the Cross. He was at the foot of the Cross with the rest of them. He witnessed everything from the start to the end but his eyes were opened to see something powerful. He saw Hope. He saw the establishment of a new Kingdom. He saw a new kind of King. Jesus began His reign on the Cross. It seems absurd to make such a claim. For those who believe in the false image of humanity such a claim is deserving of disdain and mockery. The Cross is meaningless for them. However, whenever I look at the Cross, I see Hope. The words, “It is finished” are not a judgement on our frailty. They are a promise that this agonizing conflict in our souls is not eternal. It can end and be overcome but we need to go to the foot of the Cross. We need to go there and face our true selves first before we can see the Hope that hangs on the Cross.

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The Silence of Jesus

So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,“Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. John 11:3-6

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21

Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” John 11:35-37

It is easy to just focus on the final part of this story. The resurrection of Lazarus seems like a happy ending to otherwise tragic tale. If we do this, this story has very little to say to us. The resurrection plays a small part in the story. The whole episode addresses so many intense and difficult questions that it is hard to stay focused on one thing. I will try to discipline my thoughts and limit myself to a question that was the subject of a conversation we had this week; the deafening silence of God. The silence that cannot be explained away.

The gospel story begins with the silence of Jesus. There was a sincere plea for help. Throughout the gospels we hear stories of Jesus healing people who had faith. Here were perfect candidates for healing, but instead, Jesus chose to wait. No one understood why. We can jump to the end of the story and say that Jesus wanted to resurrect Lazarus. We can happily say all’s well that ends well. However, there are many in this world who made the same heart wrenching plea for some salvation from a potentially tragic situation. They experienced the same silence as Mary and Martha.

I look at all our children and teens. Most of them are just regular children. They can be very sweet and kind at times and the next moment they become quite impossible. They are just ordinary children. None of them should be abandoned in the streets. Felipe is one of the kindest boys around and yet, he has been in the streets for the longest time. I am sure that he did not choose to be homeless. All of them at one point prayed for God to help them. Receiving silence, they took matters into their own hands. They ran away from their tormented homes and took refuge in the streets. They are Mary and Martha, but unlike them, they gave up waiting for Jesus. It doesn’t make them atheists. They just have a hard time believing that God listens to them. Mary and Martha hoped that Jesus would listen to them when they asked him to come. They knew Jesus loved them but His silence must have tormented them more than their brother’s demise.

One thing is consistent in the story. Jesus is influenced by no one. The disciples thought that it was dangerous for him to go to Bethany and Jesus refused to heed their warning. He gave them an enigmatic answer. They never fully understood him but they could not stop His determination to do what He knew to be right. No one was going to change His mind. Thomas was the first to realize this and said,

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”(John 11:16)

This was not a sarcastic remark, although it does sound like one to me. Maybe it is because I am a sarcastic person. Thomas was just a realistic person. He knew the cost of following Jesus. He was merely stating the obvious. This Man was going to lead them to their death. It is a prophetic statement in a way. They were following a Man who was not domesticated by arguments or reasoning. He has His own way of looking at life. If we follow Him, then perhaps we must to be willing to give up the way we think things should be done. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said that we should die to ourselves. There can be no resurrection if there is no death.

Our children are Lazarus too. Something in them has died. They don’t have dreams anymore. They don’t believe in the happily-ever after tales. When I read the Grimm’s fairy tales to them, they laughed and said that it is all lies. They grew up too fast in this world without any tools to face the brutal reality of life. They don’t have dreams or desires to help them endure life’s challenges. They left with nothing. People say to them that they need to go to school and get an education. They need to learn a trade and get a job. All these are good for the living. Our children are Lazarus. They are hiding in a tomb. They hear all these voices calling out to them in their tombs. They mean nothing to them. Their souls are not excited. Their souls are waiting for that one voice. The One that has been seemingly silent all their lives.

Martha told Jesus, “If only you were here……things would have been different.” Others made accusatory remarks; “why couldn’t he save his own friend?” A little antagonistic but nevertheless not an invalid question. The “if” and “why” statements have been made and asked in many ways in many tragic situations. They are usually spoken by someone who has experienced the silence of God. Even in Lazarus’ case, Jesus did not answer anyone. He just wept. This is quite strange especially when we know that He was going to resurrect Lazarus.

Jesus knew the ending, so why did he weep? I found this to be one of the most puzzling verses. Perhaps, Jesus was weeping for not just Mary and Martha, but the rest of humanity. We will never experience what they are about to experience. For us, the resurrection will just be a hope for the future. Hope is good and it alleviates the pain of our loss but it cannot remove it. The pain of being weak and hopeless is real and Jesus felt and experienced it. For most of us, we won’t see our loved one restored to us through resurrection. They will remain in their graves. They are gone for the time that we are here. We are just left with the tears. This is why Jesus wept. He knows our pain. Somehow, there is something comforting and powerful in this. It reveals to us that silence is not necessarily abandonment. We want God to say something to change the circumstances. God has something else in mind but He still stands with us in our pain and weeps with us. We weep because we think that it is the end. He weeps with us because we don’t understand that He is doing something new.

We forgot to bring a yellow colored pencil this week. Alex who hardly stops sniffing paint thinner for anything decided to sit and color with us. He wanted to color this figure yellow and nothing else would do. We naturally thought that he would abandon the coloring project and go back to sniff the rest of his paint thinner. Instead, he stood up and asked the rest of the boys if they wanted to put their money together and buy a case of colored pencils. They each gave some money that they usually keep aside for buying drugs and bought pencils to color. Then they sat there for an hour coloring with us. I have never seen this before. They are discovering that there is no need to run from their pain. They found something better. They lost their dreams and desires but something is awakening in them. They would rather use their money to buy color pencils than drugs.

Mary and Martha never saw a man return from the dead before. It was a doctrine for them and then suddenly it became a reality. They waited in silence and they experienced something new. We are going in silence with our children and I believe that we can see something new slowly coming out of the tomb.

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Healing Our Vision

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” John 9:1-3

A blind man asked us if we had a plastic bag; the kind that you find in the grocery stores. None of us had one. He didn’t mind. He thanked us and walked away. He wasn’t just passing by. He is a familiar face in the center. He has been here a long time. More than twenty years ago we shared a bench together. He sat next to us and eavesdropped on our interactions with the children. Then he initiated a conversation. I can’t remember what we spoke about. I just remember him. The benches are gone. The government removed them. Now, we don’t have a place to sit and chat. Maybe this blind man would have sat and chatted with us again if there was a place to do it. I think that the plastic bag was just a pretext to connect with us. It was too bad that none of us had one.

If I had the chance to talk to him again, I might ask him what he thought about this story from the gospel. Maybe not, I think that my courage might fail me. Besides, it is too personal. This story touches the innermost being of those who live with a disability. I would be asking too much of him to talk about something that so sensitive. However, I do wonder if he ever asked the “why” question. On the other hand, I have never heard our children or teens question God about their situation. They just deal with it as part of life.They don’t believe that they have a say in the matter. They are right.  However,  it doesn’t mean that they have asked, “why me and not others”.

The disciples did ask the question. They wanted to know who is to be blamed. It helps us have control over the situation when we know that there is a cause for every effect. They wanted Jesus to identify the cause of unjust circumstances. However, life is not so simple that such complex issues can be reduced to one or two reasons. Atheists choose the simplistic route. They say that the world is ruled by chance and some of us are just unfortunate. If they find this answer satisfactory, then all the better for them. However, it didn’t suffice for the disciples. They wanted an answer to help them understand God’s presence in all this suffering. Jesus answers in a way that would bring comfort to the sufferer but perhaps not to those who are curious about his suffering.

Jesus made it clear that his blindness does not put him outside of God’s actions in this world.

Our blind acquaintance is part of a movement or organization for the blind. They meet in the square where drug dealers and addicts mingle. Consequently, they are always in the middle of people of dubious character. It is because I judge these people with my eyes. Our friend uses other faculties to discern the character of people. Perhaps he has a way of perceiving their true nature better than me because nothing bad ever happens to him. I think that the presence of the blind or anyone with a disability awakens the humanity in the hearts of the people. At least this is true in the environment where we work. The most dangerous gangsters will make sure that no one harms or bothers them. I have seen a career criminal helping the blind cross the streets. It was purely a gratuitous act of kindness. For the wayward soul, it was his chance to remind himself that there is still a kind and gentle person in him despite his tough exterior. He may believe that these people are God’s gift for him to exercise charity. However, this was not what Jesus was saying when He said that God’s works might be revealed in them. He did not mean that the blind or the lame exist to help us become more charitable. They exist because they reveal an aspect of God’s beauty that is perhaps only accessible to them. We need them to discover this hidden beauty of God.

When I served in a parish here in Brazil, there was a young woman who was wheel-chair bound. She had a number of physical disabilities which got aggravated over the years because she could not afford the proper health care. She comes from an extremely poor family and she spent her whole life confined in a tiny shack with moldy walls. To make matters worse, she was highly intelligent young woman. She was fully aware of her plight. Unfortunately, she spent most of her life wondering if she lacked faith and was not healed for this reason. It was a cruel thought implanted in her mind by years of indoctrination. We used to visit her weekly. It wasn’t act of charity on our part. It was mainly because we enjoyed being with her. Her friendship gave us a reason to face some difficult situations in the parish. She did not possess out-of-ordinary wisdom; she was just a simple person who helped us see God’s beauty in an otherwise dark period. Most of the time, we even forgot that she was disabled.

There was a complex and difficult man who befriended her. He was an alcoholic and adulterer. He was also an abusive husband. He was the epitome of everything that we are taught to despise. I am not sure how they met but they became good friends. They came from two different worlds. He had very little regard for anyone or any faith and she was a devout Christian. For some reason, she aroused in him a sense of compassion. He tried to help her family in whatever way he could. It wasn’t gratuitous but his intentions were pure. He wanted to get to know this young woman. His friendship with her was one of the most revolutionary thing that happened in his life. It was the first time he had a relationship with a woman where sex was not the primary goal. It wasn’t romantic in nature for both parties. It was really  because of envy. A person whom the rest of the world would look at and see only a disabled person, but she became an object of envy for this man. He saw that she had a fulfilled life and he only had known failure and misery. He desired what she had. She helped him discover it. He eventually gave up his old life. It was a slow process but he attributed it to his friendship with this young woman. She helped him see the beauty of God and he could not return to his old ways. I met him after this transformation. He is an odd combination of a brute and saint. Only people in process of becoming saints manifest these qualities. He was a wild man who was transformed through the powerful witness of a frail wheel-chair bound young woman. I am grateful to God for the years we spent in this parish. This young woman is one of the most beautiful gifts that God has given us. Unfortunately, she still thinks that she needs to healed to have a fulfilled life. Maybe one day she will realize that God has already given her a beautiful life.

The story from the gospel is about healing, but not just physical healing. The blind man was still rejected after he gained his sight. The problem was not his blindness but the lack of vision of those who can see. They could not see the beautiful thing that had happened to him. They only saw what they wanted to see. When we see a blind person, or a beggar, what do we see? The disciples were taught to see a cursed person or worse, an incomplete person. Jesus healed their vision. Maybe He can continue heal our eyes so that we too can see the beauty in people whom society considers as cursed.

 

 

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Asking for Water

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” John 4:7

I did not get past this verse. In another time and space, I would have just skimmed past this verse moving on to the meat of the story. However, this time it was different. I stopped where Jesus asked for a drink. This is where it all began. The rest of the story would not have happened if Jesus did not ask for some water. It wasn’t a pretext to have a conversation with this woman. The gospel makes it very clear. Jesus was exhausted. He was genuinely thirsty. The woman went to the well at a time when there was nobody around. This is very telling of her state in her own society. She was an outsider in a society of outcasts. She did not expect anyone to be there, especially not a Jewish man. It was Jesus who initiated the conversation. He needed her help because he did not have a bucket to draw water. She did and He was thirsty. That was all that mattered for Jesus.

I never ask any help from our children and teens. Maybe it is because I can only see their needs and not what they have. If I was thirsty by the well and saw one of our boys drawing water with a bucket, I still would not ask for water. I would be thinking about the bucket; wondering whether it was clean and where it has been…I would be thinking about the condition of the bucket more than the person who was using it. If someone whom I consider to be clean and hygienic was drawing water using the same bucket, I would not hesitate to ask for some water. My thoughts would be directed towards the person. Such is life. I don’t want to be like this but I live in this reality. Jesus shows us a better way to live our lives.

Jesus did not see a Samaritan woman. He just saw someone who has the capability to share whatever she has received. The prove of this comes much later in this story. He saw in this woman someone who had something to offer to him. I need to ask myself if I look at our children and teens and think that they have something to share with me. It would only make them appear to be more human to me. If they are always at the receiving end, they will never be my equals. They never be truly humans to me. Maybe the woman wouldn’t have been willing to receive what Jesus had to offer if He hadn’t been willing to receive from her.

The woman was shocked that Jesus was willing to receive anything from her. She was understandably suspicious. Why would a Jewish man want anything from her? She wasn’t afraid of Jesus. She wouldn’t have engaged him if she thought that He was dangerous. Nevertheless, she was suspicious. We have to admit that it is a little strange. Jesus could have asked his disciples before they left him to get some water for him. The disciples were astonished perhaps even a little scandalized (John 4:27) when they saw what had unfolded. Jesus never explained Himself. He was thirsty and this woman despite who she was or what she had done, was able to give Him water. This was all that mattered and this is all it took for us to learn great lessons about the Living Water.

I wanted to write something about the whole text but my mind was stuck on this verse. It stayed with me through the many activities we did with the children this week. I felt the absence of Ruan. We haven’t seen him this week. Last weekend, he introduced us to his girlfriend. On Monday, she was with another teenager. His romantic escape did not survive the weekend. Unfortunately, it was enough to send him running away to hide and recover from his wounds. We did not see him the whole week. His absence made our hearts lonely. Our weekly trip to the foot specialist with Gabriel will end this coming week. His foot is healing perfectly. This means that next Wednesday will be the last time we will walk together to this center and chatting about everything and nothing. I have been praying for his healing but I am going to miss our walks to this place together. The weather has also been unforgivingly hot this week. There were days where the heat had drained all the energies of the children. They were not up to doing anything. Most of them did not even come of their hiding places. We missed seeing most of them. It made us feel like our week wasn’t complete.

I realized that something has happened in us. We can spend weeks not seeing our friends here, which just happened recently. Everyone likes to stay cool and indoors during the summer months here. The heat kills all desire to interact with people. We are fine with this. However, when we don’t see our children for a day, we feel that our days are empty. I thought that we were coming here to help to give their lives some meaning. Now, it seems like that we have received something from them. They have refreshed our lives with their presence. We were thirsty and tired and they came and gave us something to drink.

Perhaps on another occasion, I would not have admitted to this. It makes me look weak and even pathetic to say that I need these children and teens to enrich my days. Then, I read that Jesus was tired and wasn’t ashamed to ask a Samaritan woman for some water. He wouldn’t have had the conversation with her if he wasn’t willing to admit that he needed her help as well.

The simple gesture of Jesus has revealed to us that we cannot show compassion and love to people unless we are willing to let them see that we need them as well. It may be just a glass of water but for the Samaritan woman, it gave her a place in the gospel for eternity.

Maybe you are wondering where I am going with all this. I am not going anywhere. I am just happy to be here where God has given the grace to admit that I see these children giving me something with their lives. Not just to admit that we need them, but also the grace to receive the good things that they have to offer us. They have made our lives richer and perhaps now they can listen to what we have to offer as well.

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Where the Wind blows…

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” -John 3:-9

Every Thursday, he attends the 5 o’clock mass at the Cathedral. We don’t know his name but he has become a very familiar figure. Our interactions were very limited. He would come up to us and shake our hands and say that we are doing a great job. It was always the same except for last week. He was in the mood for a chat. I have to admit that I was a little weary. I thought that we were going to hear a long drawn-out discourse about doing God’s work. We have been subjected several times to this by well-meaning street preachers who seem to enjoy preaching to the choir. However, this man wasn’t a street preacher. He was just a pilgrim. He had just come from giving out food to the homeless. He said that he does this twice a week. The food, he said, is just an excuse to show love and affection to the homeless. He was brief. He just wanted to say that it was great to share God’s love with the needy. Then, something made him hesitate for a moment. As if to correct himself he added, “We also need the love that they share with us.” Then he shook our hands and left and we sat there pondering about what he had said.

The word, “need”, adds a radical perspective to everything. Serving the poor and the homeless, the widows and all the forgotten and lost people is no longer an activity we do when we have the time. It becomes something necessary for us to discover God’s love. It might sound a little uncomfortable for some ears. It sounds like we need to do something to earn our salvation. Well, it is not about earning but reaping the full benefits of our salvation. We never may know the joy of salvation if we restrict it a special set of doctrines or membership to a community. Salvation is the freedom to perceive and receive God’s love freely.

The quote above is from a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. The latter couldn’t fathom what it means to be born again. Perhaps he was trying to reconcile two incompatible worlds; the new Creation that Jesus was presenting and his old ideas of reality. The gospel tell us that he was a pharisee. This is a clue to understanding this man’s dilemma. Pharisees in Jesus’ time were spiritually diligent people. They kept all the laws and they took pains to keep themselves pure. It would be wrong to think that they were all hypocrites. Most of them were like Nicodemus who was a genuine and sincere person. Unfortunately, all his knowledge and religiosity could not help him grasp what it means to be born again. Maybe he did not want to be born again. It would mean giving up everything that he knew. He would have preferred if Jesus presented him with set of doctrines or spiritual exercises. These things were easy to comprehend. Jesus almost did nothing to help this poor man out of his conundrum. Instead, Jesus just kept saying that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus had a problem. He was trying to put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22). St Paul, another Pharisee, had the same problem until he met the Lord. However, he understood immediately that in order to be born again, you have to be willing to forget your past. It was a deliberate action not to reconcile things from his past which would limit the present way God was acting in his life.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”- Philippians 3:13

I would like to digress for a moment and say that I am not in any way advocating the misguided notion that we should disregard everything from the past. There is much wisdom from the past that helps us understand the newness of what the Spirit of God is doing in our midst. Jesus uses the wind to describe the movement of the Holy Spirit and it is a concept from the Old Testament. The word for Spirit of God is “ruah” which can also mean wind.

The wind blows where it desires. No one domesticate the wind. We can feel its effects and we can protect ourselves from it. However, we cannot control it. We can try but it will always overpower us. God moves where he desires. He is present where He sees fit. Being born again, it realizing that no one has the power or the right to demand how and when God should work. It is also admitting to ourselves that God has no obligation to our needs or interests. He moves to fulfill His will in this world. He invites us to be part of His movement. It requires us to be willing to receive His love even in the most unlikely situations or people.

One of the boys asked us what we did on the weekends. We told them that we spent our time reading and sometimes we would go for a short walk. He was shocked to hear that we don’t watch TV or play video games. For the children, reading was a boring activity. Then he turned around and told the others that they should ask us to come on the weekends to spend time with them in the streets. He said, “Poor Mary and Stephen have nothing to do but read on the weekend. At least here, they won’t be so lonely.” We thought what he said was humorous and at the same time, it revealed something profound. The children did not see our relationship as a one way traffic. They believed that they were giving something to us as well. They did not know what they were giving but they could see that we receive something from them. This knowledge empowered them. They felt that their presence in our lives was meaningful, so much so that whenever we are away from them they believe that we are forced to engage in boring activities like reading. They are right (not about reading). We receive something from them. We see God’s love for us through them. Wherever God’s love is present, there is joy and significance.

Nicodemus was trapped in his world of doctrines and rituals. None of these are essentially wrong. Jesus never said that they were wrong. Sometimes they can help us see and understand God’s presence in this world. However, if they restrict our understand of God’s actions and love, then we need to follow Paul’s example and choose to forget them. Being born again is being freed to receive God’s love whenever it is present. Sometimes it is in the darkest places and God’s grace will open our eyes and hearts to see His eternal Love alive in these places. Our nameless friend is not a theologian. He is just a simple man who discovered God’s love among the needy and forgotten. Now, he goes back to serve them because he knows God is waiting for him among them. Incidentally, he gives out food in one of the most dangerous places in the city. Yet, it is God’s love that shines brightly for him in this place and not the fear of danger that is associated with it.

The wind blows whenever it pleases….the Spirit brought us to these children to discover. I believe that He has a special place for each one of us to discover the joy of our salvation.

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A Necessary Reflection

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. Matthew 4:1-2

My earliest recollection of this text was when I was about seven. My catechism teacher explained that Jesus was tested so that He could be ready to show that He was worthy of His calling. Life was simpler then. I believed everything the adults said. When I was a teenager, my parish priest upset this simple order of things. He turned around and asked us; “Why did Jesus needed to be tested? After all, He was the perfect Son of God. Could God the Father doubted the capabilities of His own Son?” None of us could answer him. I am not even sure if he gave us an answer. If he did, I did not remember it, but the question was permanently imprinted in my mind. Later on in life, I had a good friend who was a former Buddhist monk. He was much older than me and we often had lively talks about religion. One day the subject of the temptations of Jesus came up. Being a non-Christian, he had no obligation to believe the traditional teachings. He found it hard to comprehend a God would need to test anyone and thought that such a god was truly ungracious god.

Today, I read this text with homeless and abandoned children and teens in mind. Some are too young to understand why they are living in the streets. They think that they made the choice to be homeless. However, such a choice shouldn’t be given to any child. The older ones have grown accustomed to their lot and they can’t imagine a life beyond the streets. None wanted to be homeless in the first place. It just happened. It would be strange for me to read this story and tell them that God tested Jesus. They might wonder about themselves; “Are our sufferings and abandonment a test from God?” I hope that they don’t ask this question. I don’t have an answer for it. Nevertheless, the season of Lent always begins with this text. It forces me to ask myself this question before the children and teens have a chance.

No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. James 1:13

I loved my catechism teacher but she was wrong. My parish priest then was trying to make us to figure this out by ourselves. God is not in the business of testing people. The temptations of Jesus were not a test. They are merely his confrontation with reality. Jesus was bringing a new and life-transforming message to the world and the devil or the world wants to domesticate it. He doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the gospel. He just wants Jesus to continue with his ministry according to his ways and methods. He wants the message of the gospel to lose its saltiness so that it would become as what Jesus said it would be, “something which is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”(Matthew 5:15)

The temptations of Christ are a warning to us not to contaminate the message of the gospel. However, the devil is very persuasive. His arguments are subtle and reasonable and even biblical. We need to be aware not to be swayed by his intelligent words.

Jesus was hungry after a long fast and he has the power to turn stones into bread. The devil’s suggestion appears to be a logical argument. Jesus should use his power to get what he wanted. The second temptation follows the same train of thought. Unfortunately, it is an argument that finds very little resistance today. He wanted to Jesus to demonstrate His privileges and power in a spectacular way so that people could see His glory. Today people approve this method claiming that it is a great way to draw people into their churches. It is a good marketing strategy. Jesus promptly refused because God does not exist to perform spectacular deeds for us. The final temptation is about shortcuts. We live in a time where “the end justifies the means spirituality” is dominant. The devil is offering a way to get to Jesus’ purpose in quick and easy way. Jesus knew that there was always a hefty price to pay when we take the shortcut to achieve the Kingdom’s goals.

All these temptations are part of the reality of anyone who wants to serve the purpose of the gospel today. Unfortunately, unlike Jesus, many of us do not prepare ourselves to face these seductive lies. We listen to the devil’s arguments without much reflection and think that he has great suggestions for the Kingdom of God. We follow his advice without hesitance and the result is that our message loses its saltiness. Jesus, on the other hand, spent 40 days in the desert reflecting and praying before He confronted the devil.

God does not test anyone but the world does. It will throw whatever persuasive arguments that are available to contaminate our intentions and zeal to serve God. The gospel threatens to destroy the foundation of this world. The Truth of the gospel exposes its lies and superficiality. The devil knows that he cannot destroy the gospel but he can contaminate it. The best way to this is to convince those who are touched by the power of the gospel to settle for something much less potent and superficial. The arguments of the devil are weak but only those who have given themselves to serious reflection and prayer can detect their fallacy.

I am glad that every season of Lent we read this episode of Jesus’ life. It helps me realize why we need this period. We need the time to reflect on the gospel and ask ourselves this simple question; are we serving the purpose of the gospel or are we using the gospel to serve our own needs? The latter is basically what the devil wanted Jesus to succumb to. It is not an easy question to ask ourselves but nevertheless a necessary one. We need more than forty days of reflection and self-examination but forty days of Lent is a good start.

Meanwhile back in the streets, I am grateful that I can tell our children that they are not in the streets because God is testing them. I can’t explain their present situation but I believe that the gospel has something powerful for them. We don’t know all the answers but we can discover the relevant ones together through the gospel. However, first, I need to make sure that I don’t contaminate the gospel with my own ambitions and desires. For this, I am grateful that the season of Lent gives the time to examine myself.

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