Sunday, March 20, 2011

11-03-13: 1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 / Psalm 51 / Romans 5:12-19 / Matthew 4:1-11
The New York Times Science Times did a piece last week on left-handedness, pointing out that the phenomenon occurs in about 10% of the population. Researchers understand it to be a very complicated issue that no one gene or even one part of the brain controls. The article did not mention, however, the attempt by Catholic first-grade teachers of old who attempted to eliminate left-handedness as rapidly as Jonas Salk did polio, the cure being a few whacks with the ruler to “teach” the left-handed child to use his right hand. They adhered, no doubt, to that old wives’ tale which claimed left-handedness was not only a defect but a sign of wickedness to a degree, mirrored linguistically in the Latin word for “left” (sinister) which, of course, comes directly into English as “sinister,” a synonym for evil. The article pointed out that President Obama is left-handed - something his critics might see as pejoratively indicative of his politics, although the first President Bush was also left handed. Some presidential trivia buffs claim that President Regan was in fact ambidextrous, a trait mirroring his transformation from liberal President of the Actors’ Guild to conservative President of the United States, a journey requiring the ability to feel at home on both the left and right sides of the aisle - albeit not at the same time.

Evil is a prominent theme in the readings on this First Sunday of Lent: from the loss of paradise through Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience to the gospel account of the temptations Jesus endured in the desert. Evil, as the devil, is not some amorphous reality but given character in both stories: a snake in Genesis, Satan in the gospel. Over the centuries, though, the devil’s been given a bad rap, blamed for lots of things he may have suggested but didn’t actually do. The devil made me do it is the excuse we humans love to give so we might not feel so guilty about acting on his suggestions. We conveniently forget Satan merely suggested while we actually acted.

If there were to be a biography written about the devil it would probably begin with the Book of Job where Satan is, in fact, not the devil we’ve come to know but a messenger sent by God to test Job. It takes quite a while after the Book of Job was written for Satan to morph into that personification of evil we’ve come to know as the devil. It’s even more unclear how Satan and the fallen angel, Lucifer, became identified as one in the same.

As tempter, or better translated, “tester” – Satan might think he is sabotaging the divine plan but, in fact, he is unwittingly serving God’s purpose, because Satan is the reluctant revealer of our true identity. When Satan tempts Jesus in the desert he tempts him with the very thing Jesus must struggle to overcome - becoming a political Messiah or a conjurer of magic. Likewise for us. A temptation is not worth its salt if it tempts with things that hold no interest for us. Temptations are difficult to overcome because they touch upon the truth of who we are, expressed in our desires and needs. If we’re never tempted by anything we’ll never know our inner weakness or our inner strength. Temptations test the mettle of our character. And, if we fall, how we recover can be the greatest building block of character. The fact that Jesus was himself tempted by Satan shows that a temptation, in itself, is no sin. As a matter of fact, temptation serves to help us face our true selves and not some imagined idealized self we wish we were. Temptation (and the tempter) helps us meet ourselves where we’re at and not where we think we should be.

So, if you’re left-handed (in any way), rejoice. It’s only when you try to hide your true self that you lose your way.

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