Grow Up

Lk 4:1-13
Lent I

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” My brother was raking leaves one afternoon years ago, when Johnny Carveth started pestering him. Johnny, 5 years old, was the neighborhood “Dennis the Menace.” Trying to distract Johnny, my brother asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Looking up and cocking his head to one side, Johnny quickly replied, “A man!” and scampered off.

Not a bad question. What do you want to be when you grow up? Growing up involves more than physical growth. There are intellectual, moral and spiritual ramifications. It involves emotional and social maturity. Growing up raises the question of not only whom you are, but also who you are to become.

And to be a man. Ah, to be a man or woman! How do you define being a man or woman? Is it not more than a tie or high heels, a beard or lipstick, biceps or bosoms? Does it not involve responsibility and authority, loyalty and compassion, courage and judgment? Surely you can add to the definition.

When I walk the corridors of the hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes and cemeteries I often think of the dialogue of my brother and Johnny, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A man!” My pastoral rounds are a rare privilege, for I am allowed into the lives of individuals, allowed to see them in their strengths and weaknesses, to see them at the beginning and at the end, to see the hope and the reality and often the process in between. To be a priest is an incredible privilege and a beautiful responsibility. To administer the sacraments, to hear confessions, to pronounce God’s absolution, to administer His blessing, to hear and read prayers — an amazing privilege.

On the one hand, I have learned that our lives are incredibly complex, not given to easy answers. Who knows the battles and burdens, which another has fought or borne? On the other hand, some things are sorrowfully clear. There are persons who have seemingly lived only for material possessions. In the last analysis they often are the poorest of men or women. Others have lived lives, which pursued control and authority. They have been adherents of the goddess of power or success. In so doing some have lost themselves and sold out to false idols.  And sadly there are some who have lived a life of illusion and false hope. Somehow they hope that magically things will be different. Appearance and show is all. Am I being judgmental? I hope not, for sometimes I see my self in the lives of others. Most of all I have a feeling of very deep sorrow.

To grow up. To be a man or a woman is not easy. It involves resisting temptations and making choices or decisions which shape our lives and define not only whom we are but also who we are to become. When I was Johnny Carveth’s age I was taught not to be greedy, to be careful whom I followed, and not to show off. Simple admonitions against strong temptations. Later on I dealt with the issues of materialism, allegiance, and looking beyond appearances. These three issues of greed/materialism, following/allegiance, and showing off/living beyond appearances are fitting topics for our Lenten contemplations. Indeed, they are the issues with which Jesus, Himself, grapples in today’s Gospel lesson.

During His period in the wilderness, Jesus faced who He was and what God wanted Him to do. The devil tempted Jesus to turn the stones to bread. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, replied, “One does not live by bread alone.” When the devil promised Jesus authority over all the nations of the world if only Jesus would worship the devil. Jesus answered, “Worship the Lord Your God, and serve only him.” Finally the devil challenged Jesus to dive from the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels save Jesus. To this Jesus replied again with a quote from Deuteronomy, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  The devil departed to bide his time.

Now why is this story of the temptation of Christ remembered and told by the early Church? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, in His life and actions, Jesus embodied or relived the life and struggle of Israel. We all represent the life and times of our culture in one-way or another. But Jesus’ temptations correspond typologically to the central theme of faithfulness in the Book of Deuteronomy. Just as Israel in the wilderness lusted after bread and the fleshpots of Egypt, so Jesus is tempted to pack it all in and solve the problem of hunger. Just as Israel was tempted to give allegiance to other nations and other gods, so Jesus is tempted to compromise with the devil and to seize power, control, and authority as a political messiah. Finally, Jesus is tempted just as Israel was tempted to try to bargain with and test God by giving into magic, miracle and apocalyptic showing off in order to force God to intervene in the world on terms other than God’s own. By embodying the historical temptations of Israel, Jesus grows into becoming the suffering servant Messiah for Israel, and all people.

Second, by presenting the temptations of Christ, Luke’s Gospel underscores the idea of incarnation. Jesus was not so ethereal that he didn’t feel greed, wasn’t immune from being attracted to other authorities, and didn’t want to show off now and then (He came close to it at the wedding at Cana.) Bread and materialism are important. People desperately need the good things of life. But Jesus also knew, as did Moses, and as did those in Eastern Europe under Communism, that there is a spiritual hunger, too. “Man does not live by bread alone.” Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist and a rabbinical student. But He also knew that His first priority was allegiance to and worship of God. Jesus understood the glory of the dramatic and what it is to live like Moses or Job in a talking relationship with God. But Jesus also understood what it was to get down to brass tacks, to separate appearance from reality, and to fish or cut bait.

In a sense, the story of the temptation of Christ is a story of what it means to grow up and to be a man — an adult — to be faithful. On the one hand the story represents Jesus’ embodiment of the struggle of Israel. And on the other hand the story embodies our individual struggles to render wholehearted undivided allegiance to the one, true, living God.

During Lent, consider your temptations. Reflect on those things for which you are greedy and the place of materialism in your life. Consider where your allegiances lie, and from whom you take your cues. Ask your self how much you live in the land of unreal expectations and make believe where you hope for a magical resolution of your problems. Ask your self how much you are other-directed. As a parish we could ask how much of our mission is to provide worldly goods and services and how much to concentrate on worship and devotion. How much are we true to our promises to God and how much do we follow the whims of fad and fashion? Do we as a parish do things for show or for growth and witness?

What do you want to be when you grow up? A never-ending question with an answer in eternity. By the story of the temptation of Christ, you and I are assured by the actions of God and the life of the Church that Jesus  walks with us. Our journey of Christian growth and maturation during Lent, and through out life, is one in which we can depend on Him to guide and support us in faithfulness.

I do not know what ever happened to Johnny Carveth, or what kind of adult he became. I pray that he somehow came to know the love of God in Christ Jesus. I do know that my brother went through very difficult times. Through them he never lost faith in God, and God never lost faith in him. My brother has emerged a more reflective, wiser person, a real “man.” This Lent, knowing that Christ has walked where you tread, examine the temptations, which befall your journey of growth towards Christian maturity. Be confident that God understands our struggle to grow into His likeness, to grow in faithfulness, to grow up. Amen.   –Fr. Gage