Sunday, May 31, 2009

2-25-2007: 1st Lent (C)

Deuteronomy 26:4-10/Psalm 91/Romans 10:8-13/Luke 4:1-13
There’s a lovely way in which the Revised Standard Version puts a certain adverb when, in Chapter 13 of the Letter to the Hebrews, it suggests that one shouldn’t neglect hospitality – “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” William Blake uses that adverb in the same odd way when he says, somewhere in his own scriptures, “to bless him unawares.” A few years back the unsuccessful film about the life of Dorothy Day was fittingly titled Entertaining Angels – Miss Day spent her life entertaining. The danger (as Dorothy Day knew so well) is that the more you practice entertaining, the greater the possibility your guests will be more unsavory than not, and the angels who drop by might very well be of the fallen variety.

I suppose that’s one way of looking at today’s gospel when that fallen angel who goes by a legion of names (Satan, Lucifer, Be-elzebul, to cite but a few) makes himself Jesus’ guest in the loneliness of the Judean desert. And here’s the all-important point of that beautiful and revelatory intercourse, of which we as Christians are too often unawares: Jesus entertains him. Call the Inquisition if you must; inform the Holy Office by fax or even e-mail, but there’s just no getting around it -- Jesus entertains temptation.

Temptation can be the greatest instructor on our pilgrimage of self-awareness for it shows us where our real desires lie. Evil and sin, remember, are not antithetical to the human condition, but merely corruptions of the good. Jesus was destined to be Messiah and King, but not the kind of Messiah and King everyone wanted. The temptation for him was to embrace what everyone wanted, something good in itself -- a manifestation of majesty, a kingly role to liberate the oppressed and feed the hungry. But that would have been a corruption of the higher good – his vocation as suffering servant, his destiny as innocent victim and perfect sacrifice.

Lent’s aim is to “turn things around” – the very definition of “conversion.” How Lent advances that conversion in us has a lot to do with our attitude toward temptation. If we entertain temptation, if we give the devil his due, so to speak, and listen to where his promptings point, we may learn who we really are and which turn on the winding path of self discovery we need to avoid, which lesser good we need to forfeit, so we might embrace that proper destiny.

The Lenten Season urges us not to neglect hospitality and thereby entertain angels unawares, in whatever form those angels may come -- even in their fallen state. So as we begin Lent, this desert of forty days, let it be said for the record: temptation can be a friend and even Satan’s prompts can bless us unawares.

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