Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2015
Anthony Medairos, pastor
22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Our culture is still deeply
influenced by Greek mythology. Classical
literature about the Greek gods is studied at university. Recent movies like the Percy Jackson series
introduce youngsters to the imaginative world of gods and demigods. Pagan gods are portrayed as entertaining themselves
by manipulating humans into doing things for their amusement. Pagans conceived of these great gods as
actually being like petty, egotistical human beings. Most pagan cultures seem to envision their
god or gods in the same, petty way.
But isn’t today’s event from the
Book of Genesis pretty much the same thing?
Isn’t God uncertain of Abraham and so God imposes a quest on him as a
test? Isn’t God manipulating Abraham
into sacrificing his son Isaac as a test of absolute obedience? At first it seems so. Perhaps the original author of this book
thought this way. But take note that God
has already provided the sacrifice: “a ram caught by its horns in the
Consider whether, rather than
testing Abraham in a petty, egotistical way, God is actually showing Abraham
that Abraham is ready to live greatly in the name of God. Here, God is like a dad teaching his son how
to throw a fastball. “I know you can do
it, son. You have the strength. I’ve shown you how to hold the ball and how
to aim. Now just do it!” And when the boy throws a really fast pitch,
he gains confidence. If you can do this
thing, you can do greater. Maybe now
he’s ready to try a curve ball. Or here
God is like a mom teaching her little daughter how to swim. “Mommy’s got you. I’ll hold your tummy while you stroke with
your arms and kick your legs.” And then
mom lowers her hand and the child is still swimming. And when the girl realizes she’s doing it
without mom’s protective hand, she gains confidence. If you can do this thing, you can do
greater. Before you know it, she’s
Now Abraham knows how far he will go
to worship and serve his God. He was
brought to the verge of sacrificing his only son, the son of God’s promise that
elderly Abraham would father a multitude of nations. In this act Abraham discovered that his trust
of God was powerful. Abraham knew then
that he could do anything with God’s friendship. He was ready for the covenant God desired to
make with him, blessing Abraham with countless descendants. Jews, Christians and Muslims all consider
themselves children of this same Abraham.
Abraham had to experience God’s
abiding presence in his life and the power and authority that that gave him
before he could be really bold with God, throwing fastballs, if you like,
swimming laps. Abraham became a stronger
person. That is the Heavenly Father’s message to each one of us.
You and I confess that God in Jesus
Christ has given himself to us. So, we
already have a bold relationship with God.
God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all….” This ultimate gift of God calls for us to
respond as boldly as did Abraham. We
must call upon God. We must be people of
prayer who plead with God. God listens
to us. We should not insult God by
remaining silent  –
silent in talking with God in prayer and worship, or silent is speaking out for
God in this world, among our own friends and family, among our neighbors, even
Jesus sacrificed himself on the
cross not to appease a vengeful, capricious, manipulative God. Jesus’ sacrifice was not a pagan sacrifice
that changed God’s mind into loving us.
There was nothing in it of putting an angry demon into a good mood. God did not need to be changed. By the cross Jesus reconciled man to God, not
God to man. The sacrifice of the only
Son of the Father changed not God, it changed us.  Any enmity or distance between God and us has
This is the time of our testing. And I say this especially to the youngest
among us, for you will experience the most turbulent years of testing. Our faith is under attack. Our fellow Christians are being beheaded,
crucified, and dispossessed in the Middle East
and Africa by Islamic extremists. Christianity is under severe political
restrictions even in Islamic countries that are not yet violent.
The secular humanism of our Western culture is
poised to attack our beliefs, deriding our ancient values as being antiquated
and irrelevant. We are shoved into the
background by laws and judicial decisions, consigning our faith to being
private, kept behind the walls of our churches.
Our faith will not be tolerated in the public square for debate or
evangelization. So a Christmas manger
scene becomes offensive because it doesn’t include everyone’s beliefs. And
correctness claims that a politician’s religious beliefs should not inform his
or her position on public policy.
But this is the time for us to be
bold. This is not God’s testing us to
check whether our faith is real. No,
this is the time when believers will come to realize that we can be bold
because, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we will but listen to our God, we will
realize that God has made a covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the world will not defeat us. Instead, we can transform the world. We have good news for the world. And the good news is Jesus Christ. In delivering this good news, you and I must
 A.M. Besnard, Take
a Chance on God (Denville, NJ:
Dimension Books, 1977), p. 121.
 Hans Küng, On
Being a Christian (Garden City: Doubleday
& Co., 1976), pp. 424-425.
February 22, 2015
Rev. Anthony Medairos,
1 Peter 3:18-22
Jesus was tempted. We are tempted. Every day most of us pray the words, “Lead us
not into temptation.” These words are
not what Jesus actually said. Advances
in biblical scholarship now translate Jesus’ words as, “Do not subject us to
the final test.” In Jesus’ time there
appeared in Jewish apocalyptic writings (that is, about the end of time) predictions
that before the end of the world there would be a great period of testing, with
people turning away from faith during a time of great tribulation.  One scholar wrote that to focus this part of the
Our Father on avoiding “enticement to sin is to narrow its meaning to the point
of distortion.”  More expansively we should instead pray, “Our
Father … do not subject us to the final test.”
the way we’re accustomed to praying about temptation is deeply rooted in
Christian tradition. And, after all, temptation
is real – whether today or at the end of days.
Jesus was tempted, as Mark briefly described for us today.
all face temptations, like the overweight man who tried so hard to avoid his temptation
for sweets so he might lose some weight that he even changed the route he traveled
to work each day to avoid a certain bakery.
He did well for a while until he arrived at the office one morning with
a large cake. His coworkers expressed
their disappointment. But he explained,
“Without thinking, I took the old route to work. And there was the bakery with all its goodies
calling to me from the shop window. And
I prayed that if God did not want me to buy some sweets there would be no parking
space in front of the bakery. But there
it was: a parking space! The ninth time around the block, and there it
Haven’t we all played that game with
ourselves – the bargaining that inevitably leads to our giving in to
temptation? And we do this about things
far more significant than a chocolate layer cake. We play the bargaining game with lust (“God
wouldn’t have invented the bikini if he didn’t want me to look.”), with property
or money (“A big company can afford this piddling amount – they expect things
to fall off the back of the truck.”), with the truth (“I only say that sort of
thing to keep the peace.”), with personal responsibility (“Everybody does
was the situation that God found so intolerable in the days of Noah. It was not so much that sins were suddenly
being committed in the world. There had
been sinning since Adam and Eve. It was
that no one called them sins. As our own days, everything was
“natural.” If it feels good, it must be
good. God determined to wipe this
attitude off the face of the earth. So God
hit the “reset button.”
Temptation after the Flood remains. But God wanted temptation to become an
encounter with godliness rather than a dance of excuses. This is what Jesus experienced in his own temptations, as recorded in the
other gospels. Rather than finding excuses
that surrendered to his impulses, Jesus’ temptations became places to meet God
and to lean on the Father.
It can be the same for you and me,
if we observe these four simple, though demanding, steps in our every
temptation. First, name the temptation. Use the right, true name for things. Some critics propose that this is a problem
with our national defense: that the government does not “name” or identify a
real threat against the U.S.
as jihadist Islam. But until the problem
is accurately named, possible responses will never be found. It is the same with personal
temptations. Name them. It is not “borrowing;” it is stealing. It is not “being friendly;” it is flirting
that may lead to adultery. It is not
“controlling my own body;” it is abortion, the killing of innocent life. It is not “improving my image;” it is
lying. Name the temptation.
Then, name the tempter. Of course, we can always say, “The Devil made
me do it.” But if the Great Deceiver were
capable of honesty, the Devil would have to agree with all confidence men: You
cannot con an honest person. Most of the
time, the Devil doesn’t need to get involved.
The actual tempter is our own
impulse: our own lust, greed,
selfishness, indifference to others, egoism.
Unmask our own attempts at rationalizing. Name the tempter.
Next, practice resistance. Like athletic abilities or musical skills,
virtue is power acquired through practice.
Truth telling in small matters, kindness in caring for others, rigorous
respect for others’ possessions and relationships – these develop into habits
that become nearly automatic when greater temptations are before us. Practice resistance.
Finally, call for help. Be a person who is open to an ongoing
relationship with God. Pray. This divine relationship began in our
baptism. And our baptism also brings us
into union with all the baptized: this community of faith, the Church. Use the good people whom God has placed in
our lives. Talk to friends. Seek prudent advice. Listen to the wisdom of the teachings of the
Church. There are some things that a
person just cannot do on his or her own.
Call for help.
Every Lenten season begins with the
temptations of Jesus in the desert. This
is not an accident. It is a reminder
that, like Jesus, we also can experience temptation not as a time for personal
failure, but instead as a time and a place in which to meet God and to lean on
 Howard Clark
Kee, “The Gospel according to Matthew,” The
Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press,
1971), p. 645.
 Charles W. F.
Smith, “Lord’s Prayer,” The Interpreters’
Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1962), volume
3, p. 157.
 Peter Gomes, The Good Book (San Francisco:
We receive two revelations about
Jesus in today’s scripture readings. Both
revolve around leprosy. But leprosy is
only the starting point.
The first revelation is found in
Jesus’ reaction to the leper who “came up to Jesus.” Hansen’s disease, the medical term for
leprosy, was thought to be a highly contagious infection. It hideously disfigures the body of its
victims. Besides an understandable fear
of contagion, there was a strong cultural bias against “unclean” people. They seemed cursed by God for their
sins. Remember Charlton Heston’s role as
Ben Hur when Ben Hur’s mother and
sister were deliberately infected with the disease and forced to live,
impoverished, in the wilderness. They hid
from Ben Hur, preferring that they be thought dead, lest Ben Hur search for
them and infect himself.
At that time any skin lesion (psoriasis,
a bad rash, boils, even acne) might be considered “leprosy.” This explains the procedures priests used to
validate cures for leprosy, which is actually incurable. A rash resolves itself; so leprosy must have
Biblically speaking, leprosy was not
really about a diagnosis of Hansen’s disease.
More than that disease, it represented social and theological
disfigurement that made someone “different” and especially unattractive, that
set someone apart from the community, thrust outside the village. Consider that you and I may have adopted behaviors
that are unattractive in God’s eyes.
Perhaps it is sin. Spiritual
diseases have consequences far worse than leprosy. When we recognize our spiritual failings, we
may feel that we have been thrust outside the Christian community.
Jesus was not repulsed with disgust or fear of leprosy – whether Hansen’s
Disease or any other physical or spiritual disfigurement. In fact, Jesus’ reaction was quite the
opposite: Where our translation blandly
says Jesus was “moved with pity,” the original Greek is more closely translated
as a “gut wrenching” experience for him.
So he allowed the leper to approach, and even touch him. And Jesus did will to heal the
leper. Far from repulsing Jesus, any sin
or flaw in us he wills to touch and heal.
So Jesus welcomes every one of us. And every part of us. And everyone.
second revelation is that Jesus had not only the will but he acted to
heal those whom he welcomed. You can
read in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus the elaborate ritual
for validating a cure of leprosy. After
a physical examination of a healed leper by the priest, two birds were needed:
one slaughtered and its blood mixed with some vegetation, the living bird then
dipped in that blood and then freed to fly away. The patient then washed and shaved. After seven days, the patient was reexamined
and made to shave all his hair, even the eyebrows. Two lambs and a goat were sacrificed in the Temple and their blood
mixed with flour and oil, which a priest touched to the patient’s right ear,
right thumb and right big toe. After further
reexamination, the skin still being clean, the leper was given a bill of health
and then had to make an animal sacrifice and a cereal offering before being allowed
to re-join the company of “normal” people.
This ritual took about eight days.
did not simply feel bad for the leper. Nor
did he revert to ritual. Jesus acted. He touched the leper and said, “Be made
clean.” And the leper was made
clean. It was not ritual that was
needed. All that was needed was the
faith of the one in need.
is nothing in you or me, there is nothing lacking in you or me
that Jesus cannot touch and heal. There
is no virtue in us that Jesus will not foster to grow within us. You and I need only acknowledge our need and
to trust in the Lord. Allow the Lord to
act in our lives. We are not condemned
to broadcast ourselves to be “Unclean; unclean.” Recognizing our failings does not mean things
are hopeless, rationalizing that we cannot change.
is like a woman who once said to me that whenever a priest had asked her to
come to Mass weekly, paradoxically she found that invitation unwelcoming. I suspect that the “unwelcome” part of the
invitation was her rationalization denied that she just wasn’t ready to come to
a fuller experience of her Catholic faith.
people fear that the Lord does not welcome them. They sense they are unattractive to God. So they continue to wallow in their current,
unfulfilling way of living, thinking it impossible for themselves to change, or
that it is too difficult for them to change the things perceived as
unattractive to God.
as we’ve heard today, we lepers are all welcomed by the Lord. All that is needed for God to act in our
lives is for us to declare, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And we will be made clean.
when you or I feel that we’ve been healed by Jesus in some way, then we must
continue that ministry of Jesus today.
As disciples we can participate in the Lord’s healing ministry. Recognize those who are in need, who feel
excluded, who are marginalized, who make us feel squeamish, who are “different,”
not “our kind of people,” our “lepers.”
Then reach out.
it’s not enough simply to have compassion about them, however gut wrenching and
sincere our feelings may be. We, like
Jesus, must act. You and I need to
welcome others to know the Lord as we have been welcomed, to be healed
as we have been healed.