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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fr. Bob Warren's Week Reflection: Stones into Bread

Franciscan Friars
Stones into Bread
(Matthew 4:1-11)

It is an incontestable fact that there is evil in the world. It is around us and inside us. There is moral evil, which we call sin. There is physical evil like earthquakes and illness. There are personal evils, which may or may not be sin, but are described as bad luck, rotten breaks, discouragement, despair.
The battleground of good and evil is the world, and we ourselves. It is this battle, this deadly combat between the forces of light and darkness that is portrayed in the gospel today as Jesus and the devil meet. Matthew wishes to point out to us that Jesus is the new Israel, the one who is chosen, called to be a light among nations. He recalls an experience familiar to His hearers. During the Israeli's time in the desert on the way to the promised land, they were tempted to turn aside their mission. For forty years, they went through this testing, so now Jesus is presented to us as one who wrestles with temptation, in the desert, for forty days and forty nights. The tempter taunts Him.
If God is good and You are His chosen one, jump from the roof of the temple. You won't even stub your toe. Jesus answered with words taken from the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy. "You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." That reminds Israel of a time when they were lost in the desert. There they threw down the gauntlet and challenged God. They shouted at the heavens that it would have been better for God to leave the nation in slavery in Egypt rather than take them out into the desert to die of thirst. Water had become the litmus test of God's love. Water was supplied to Israel in the desert showing that God had not forsaken them, but the author of Deuteronomy warns the nation that God will not be tested. God had tolerated Israel's childish tantrum that time, but Israel should be wary of ever testing God again.
Sometimes we want to cry out to God, just like the Israelites. If you are God, do something! Evil. Suffering. Pain. They are still with us. All of us at some point in our lives experience suffering, the death of a friend or family member, a long painful sickness, a divorce, loss of a job. The list goes on, and we could all contribute a petition to the litany of pain.
Religious thinkers have offered a variety of responses to the question "why?" But none of these responses is satisfactory. One response is the view that God is just and gives to people what they deserve, which does not answer the question why so many innocent people suffer. Another response to suffering sees it as something that instructs, enables, and edifies. It is true that many things we thought were reasons for despair turn out well and are seen in retrospect as ways of growing, but this is not the kind of pep talk some need to hear when they are in pain. Another response stresses that pain and suffering are a test of faith. In this view, God pushes you to the edge in some sort of cosmic game of chicken. If you do not flinch, you win the prize and eternal life.
No doubt, suffering is a test of faith. But to suggest that God needs a battery of cruelty test scores in order to know our faith is to suggest a reality other than the God of Jesus Christ. It is to suggest that God is as insecure as a child who continually tests His parents' love. Again we fall victim to the tendency of making God in our image. The word we throw at God, the word "Why" has implications. We say that God is good. If God is good, we demand that He must act in a certain way. We say that God is love, that He is just. If God is love and just, we demand that He act in a certain way.
We have to understand what we are doing here. We are setting up specifications for God, almost as if we are putting a job out for bid. We are setting up limitations within which God must live and act. We are saying that we understand what goodness and justice and love are all about, and that God had better fulfill our definition. Jesus would have none of this. He said simply and directly, you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. He is telling us that we must give God room enough to be God in our lives. He tells us to try to come in through the narrow door. The posts of that doorway are the power and goodness of God. We come to understand that all human knowledge and wisdom are stammering in the presence of God. It is like a candle trying to illuminate the sun, or a drop of water trying to contain the ocean.
And try as we might, our human intellect is incapable of understanding God. We recall the words of scripture, when our God tells us, "Be still and know that I am God. For my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are above your ways, and my thoughts are your thoughts."
In the end, it comes down to this. Can you trust God? Can you be like Job in the Old Testament sitting in the town dump, covered with sores and cursing the day he was born. God did not explain patiently and clearly why innocent Job was suffering so much. No, God just touched Job. Job experienced God, and that was enough. God gives; God taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Or like Mary, that young teenage girl being asked if she would be the mother of God, never fully understanding what it meant, simply replying, "Be it done unto me according to Your word."
As we begin Lent, ask yourself, is your faith strong enough to say with Jesus at all times, and in every situation, "Father, into Your hand I entrust my spirit?"
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
GRAYMOOR P.O. Box 301, Garrison, NY 10524
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