March 24, 2017, 12:17 pm
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Abandoning the road of materialism

AT that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

***

Jesus’ three temptations follow an order of importance. The first temptation–changing stones into bread–underscores the vision that people can only be happy if all their material needs are answered. This is what affects people most. Jesus multiplied the seven loaves of bread to feed the hungry thousands, but he said “no” to the devil, saying that the solution is always to give priority to God’s word and that once people make material things their priority, a bigger problem would hit them. At times, material deprivation can be a good thing as in the case of Jesus in the desert, fasting for forty days and forty nights. This abstention from food and drink is the first step towards a more spiritual life.

St. Evagrius of Pontus, a fourth-century Desert Father, came up with a list of eight deadly thoughts (that later would be modified to the seven capital sins). Though he directed his writings to his fellow monks and hermits, his reflection on gluttony as the first of the deadly thought could be applied to everyone. All sins, he said, start when people listen always seriously to the demands of their stomach, be it in food or drink. Gluttony is the first manifestation of greed. The moment that hermits manage to control themselves in food and drink, they could move towards other virtues. Monks and hermits in the desert often fast, and thus in their hunger, often their thoughts focus on food and drink. That preoccupation would lead them to hoard money to prevent hunger and thirst, paralyzing acts of sharing and solidarity with those in need.

“Gluttony” in our times is materialism. The materialistic person continues to update himself/herself with the newest cell phones, iPods and computers, making recreation, travels , and vacations a constant need. When there is so much focus on having and enjoying, the consequence would not be on sharing. In fact, there is hunger and poverty in our world, not because of lack of resources, but because sharing is slowly disappearing. Only hearts detached from riches and wealth are able to share.

Recent world events attest to this: the exit of Great Britain from European Union, the victory of the billionaire Donald Trump in the US elections of 2016 underscores the creation of new walls and boundaries by which rich nations protect their way of life and avoid being contaminated by the poverty of others. Refugees are no longer welcomed, and the only foreign policy of these rich nations is this: “Nothing for nothing.” If other countries have nothing to give them, they will also give nothing.

These events simply manifest that more people are saying “yes” to the Devil in his effort to make humanity blind to its spiritual essence. That’s why, in the first Sunday of Lent, we should join Jesus in his statement: “One does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We prefer to go hungry, to fast this Lenten season in order to inculcate in us our obligation to share with the needy and the abandoned, leaving wilfully the road of materialism and consumerism.

***

– Fr. Teotimo S. Melliza, SSP
– (March 5, 2017)
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