February 17, 2013 – First Sunday of Lent
On this First Sunday of Lent, we are called to continue our 40-day Lenten journey with most of it before us. Today’s Gospel, however, reminds us that those 40 days can be filled with temptation, and for us, perhaps hesitation. The number 40 appears again and again in the Bible: the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the 40 days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; the 40 days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah; the 40 years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land; the 40 days Jonah gave in his prophecy of judgment to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed, and, of course, Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.
For us, it is 40 days of preparation for celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, during which we are called to prepare through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Traditionally, we, as Catholics have tended to focus on the denial aspects of Lent — that is, we give things up; we make an effort to make sacrifices, particularly in the area of foods, to help ourselves get a deeper sense of our total and complete dependence on God and not on the material things around us, and to connect ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice and his 40 days in the desert.
Even though self-denial is important, it is equally essential that we make active efforts to deepen our faith throughout the Lenten season through spiritual reading, bible study, catechism study, etc.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, two important stewardship elements are reinforced. The first is represented by Deuteronomy 26:4: “The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.” Most of us should recognize this as our offertory — the time when we RETURN (not give, mind you) a portion of our blessings to God through the collection. The second is a bit more profound, from Dt. 26:10: “I have now brought you the first fruits…”
From a stewardship outlook, every day is filled with temptation. There is the temptation to view our many gifts as ours, not God’s. We are tempted to share with God and those in need not our first fruits but what we see as feasible after we have met our own needs and wants. Jesus was confident in His Father; He trusted Him and was thus able to resist the temptations presented Him by the devil. Lent is a perfect time for us to reevaluate our own lives, to appraise in particular our gifts and how we share them. In a sense, we are in our own desert, and we are faced with our own temptations. Our goal should be to strive to share of our first fruits before we use them for our own benefit.