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Lent 1: Illusions in the Wilderness: Pleasure, Pride, and Possessions

There was a priest I knew who lived in Princeton. One evening he went to visit with a gentleman from his congregation. He had never been invited in until this day. As he approached the home and drove into the long drive, he took special notice to the meticulously taken care of lawn. It was a seven-bedroom estate, large, and beautiful.

In awe of his surroundings, the priest crossed the threshold, and the man led him to the living room. He sat on a chair that was tattered and worn and quickly noticed the silence. The home was nearly empty. This was the only furnished room. The priest was confused, the gentleman never missed a tithed, showed up on Sunday regularly and was always dressed in a suit and smiled at those he greeted.

The walls were bare, the space was silent, and the man began to weep before his priest.

According to Homer in Greek mythology, there are creatures, hideous monsters, half-bird, and half woman, referred to as Sirens. They lived on an island and lured sailors to their death. They would sing and by the power of their sweetness in their song, they stirred an illusion to every sailor who would hear, an illusion of beauty, the sailors couldn’t resist.

Our Gospel tells the story:

Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. This is an image of a new Exodus where Israel spent 40 years before reaching the promised land, with Jesus as the new Israel. He would face a time of testing, temptation, and struggle.

Wherever in the bible we see the number 40, note the struggle and temptation. The number 40 represents the purification from sin. For instance, Noah and the flood, there were 40 days and 40 nights of rain. Moses spent 40 days on the Mount before he could be received in the presence of God and Elijah fleeing from Jezebel spent 40 days and nights in the desert preparing to meet God, a time of preparation and purification.

This is our Lenten season. So how do we prepare ourselves for our Lord?

Sirens of Greek Mythology

Well, going back to our Greek myth and the story of the Sirens; Odysseus who was the King of the isle Ithica who wanted to hear what the fuss was all about so he ordered his men to tie him, tightly to the mast and not let him out. The men, knowing better and not wanting to fight temptation, took beeswax and put it in their ears. As they rowed by Odysseus heard the song and frantically tried to undo his ties, yelling at the men to realease him, but the men could not hear, and rowed on by.

The men who rowed with beeswax in their ears simply walked away from temptation, but Odysseus, wanting to hear, basically tasted temptation then couldn’t resist without the help of his mates.

And then there was Orpheus, a beautiful poet, and musician. He was considered a prophet of his time who learned to play the Lyre from the Greek God, Apollo. It is said that his music was so powerful, he could make the trees bend and the animals dance. As the Argonauts passed through the waters where the Sirens could be heard, he remembered his gift, he pulled out his Lyre and played the most beautiful song, drowning out the call of temptation. Filling his boat with all that is good, true and beautiful.

Jesus in the desert is tempted by the Devil. Like our Greek myth, he is tempted with the sin of Pleasure, by the Flesh, to satisfy his hunger.

“if you are the son of God then just change the stones into bread and fill your
belly, eat your fill.” Jesus resists that temptation by saying “man doesn’t live by
bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus quotes scripture.

Then knowing Jesus quoted scripture, the devil levels up, he takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says,

“if you’re really the son of God then throw yourself down because ‘he will give his angels charge of you.”

Here the devil veiled himself with scripture, Psalm 91,

“God will give his angels charge of you and they will bear you up less you strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus Tempted in the Desert

He tried to tempt Jesus with the sin of Pride. If you are who you say you are, then do this, prove it.

Finally,

“the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the
kingdoms of the world and all of their glory; and he says ‘I’ll give this to you if you
just worship me.”

The devil knew Jesus was here for all the souls of humanity, so he tempted him with the sin of possessions and offered them up, in a way that would eliminate Jesus’ suffering and humiliation, via death on a cross, if he just turned his back on God.

Jesus replies, once again with scripture, “you should only worship the Lord
your God and him alone shall you serve.”

We live in a world full of illusions, the temptation of the devil, the call of the sirens dress in glamour, glitz and beautiful sounds to satisfy our instant need of pleasure, to embolden our pride, our ego or to relish and clothe ourselves with material things. Each gives us an appearance of wellness or satisfaction but leaves us thirsting for the spirit of God who is the only power who can give us the fullness of life both here and the hereafter.

I opened with a story of a man who appeared to be wealthy, no one knew the depth of his suffering, his wounds or scars. He was too proud to ask for help before this day or admit to his failures. He had fallen into sin and darkness. He gave in to the flesh, cheated on his spouse, and drank to numb his pain. His son died of drug addiction, and though he owned a multi-million dollar business, he was spiritually bankrupt and had nothing. He lost everything in the hunt for the easier softer way.

The Christian life is not an easy life. It is filled with suffering and pain, obstacles and temptation, but when we are wise and aware of the devil’s tricks and tactics, how he hides in false prophets, quotes scripture, offers instant gratification, or the promise of goods, we have the tools to resist with the help of one another, through prayer, fasting, giving alms, and reconciliation.

Over the next 40 days, arm yourself with wisdom in the reading of our scriptures, arm yourself with prayer calling on God to walk with you and guide you, and give of yourself to another human being and to the church assisting one another on this journey through a Christian life.

Love, Lift, guide and support one another, for the mercy of God is Great and the Power of God is forever.

Blessings,
Mo. Allison+
The Lord’s Prayer sung by Jackie Evancho

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