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In the “wilderness times” of our lives, our recourse is to God.
 
Lord Jesus, when I experience wilderness times,
let me never forget God’s unqualified mercy.
As I face times of testing,
give me the grace to choose life.
Guide me through this Lenten season
with a renewed desire to entrust my life into your hands. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Jesus temptation“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” (Matthew 4:1–11).
 
We all know temptation. Temptations to be less than we were created to be, to take the easy way, surround us. If we believe that Jesus is not only fully divine but also fully human, we should not be shocked that even he was tempted. He knew what it meant to live on this earth, to eat and drink, to feel excitement and joy, frustration and fatigue. He knew what it was to love and be loved and to lose people for whom he cared. He experienced temptations to be less than who he was being called to be, and he was free to say yes or no, just as we are.
 
Jesus, like all of us, was tempted throughout his life. We see him being tempted, after the multiplication of the loaves, by the peoples’ acclaim and their determination to make him king, but he escaped from the applauding crowd. Later, he refused to play the magician for King Herod when Herod demanded miraculous acts. And in his agony in the garden, we see him confront and resist the temptation to run away from pain and suffering. We have in Jesus someone who was tempted like us in many different ways. And how did he respond?
 
Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself to be rooted in prayer, turning to the God the Father who was constantly with him. We see him throughout his ministry, especially in times of temptation, withdraw to pray on the mountaintop—to be in the presence of God, and to take time to reflect. But afterward, he returned to his community, to the people who accompanied and supported him in ministry. It was the support of prayer and community that gave him strength in the face of temptation.
 
Throughout our lives we are confronted with temptations to do such things as mistreating a sibling, lying about who broke the vase, plagiarizing someone else’s work, demeaning others to make ourselves look better. Maybe we are tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs to escape an unpleasant reality. If we look to the example of Jesus who rooted himself in prayer and drew strength from a supportive community we, like him, can overcome temptation.
 
– How does Jesus’ response to temptation present a model for your response to temptation?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides’” (Matthew 6:25-33).
 
At some point in our lives, we all go through periods of worry-filled hysteria. If it’s not about work or school, it’s about money or family. We are people who are constantly concerned with our future comfort and contentment. Where will I live? What kind of job will I have? Will it be fulfilling? Will I make enough money? Is there someone out there for me? We believe our future happiness depends on getting the “right” answers to these questions.
 
In this gospel passage, the response is the simple and sometimes annoying catchphrase, “Don’t worry. Stop and smell the roses.”
 
Jesus is not simply saying, “Don’t worry.” He explains that worry is meaningless and will get us nowhere. Worry will not provide food or clothing; it will not add a single day to our lives. He asks us to question the value of the things about which we go crazy with worry. Essentially, he asks, “What is really important?” Jesus does not tell us to ignore our responsibilities; rather, he tells us to get our priorities in order.
 
“First, seek the kingdom of God…” This may seem like a very abstract concept that has nothing to do with our practical concerns; but if we are to take Jesus seriously, we must see his teaching about the kingdom of God as real and relevant in everything we do.
 
The Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx described the kingdom—or reign—of God as a time and place where love, equity, and justice prevail in a reconciling and peaceful society and all beings live to the potential that the Creator has instilled in them. When striving for such a world becomes our first priority, schoolwork, jobs, and financial security diminish in prominence. Loving our neighbor, respecting others, and showing kindness to the stranger, these are the most important things we will ever do.
 
– How do your worries keep you from living as God intends?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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extra mile“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants
to borrow.
 
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust'” (Matthew 5:38-45).
 
By following literally Jesus’ words in the first part of the passage, we will live a Christian life by not seeking retribution, by giving to those in need, by helping others, and by loving everyone—our friends and enemies alike. But the point Jesus makes is that we should not just do the minimum but go beyond it.
 
It’s easy to interpret the part of this passage that speaks of “going the extra mile”—the origin of that oft-used phrase—to mean that, with a gracious spirit, we should do more than is required, but it would have have had a particular context for someone of Jesus’ time. A Roman soldier could compel a person in an occupied country to carry a load for a mile. The service was compulsory, but the distance was limited. Jesus tells his followers to go two miles—to give much more than what was required.
 
What Jesus suggests here is a method of pointing out the injustice of the required mile. The willingly-served second mile would draw attention to the unjust nature of the first. In the same way, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed, and eventually changed, unjust societal structures.
 
Although it is impractical, if not impossible, to give to all who beg from us, if we recognize the needs of the desperately poor and work to correct the underlying systemic problems that lead to poverty, we are doing what Jesus instructs.
 
By asking us to love our enemies, Jesus challenges us to love others as completely as we are able, believing the best about their motives, wanting good things for them, recognizing that they are also loved by God, treating them with respect. We don’t have to like them, only love them.
 
How does this Gospel passage challenge you in regard to loving your enemies?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
‘Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.” Anything more is from the evil one’” (Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37).
 
When we start a new job or begin attending a new school, we usually receive a handbook of policies and procedures as well as various instructions for how to successfully navigate the new environment. There is something inherently relational about laws intended to foster community and harmony or protect us from hurting ourselves and others. This connection between relationships and the law is at the heart of this gospel reading.
 
The law of God, as given to Moses, was understood by the people as instructions for living: principles for living a moral life, guidance on how to enter into relationship with God, and how to best live in relationship with one another. Jesus is not asking his followers to dismiss the teachings of Moses but he is looking beyond the strict literal interpretation of the law, going deeper to pursue the underlying meaning.
 
Jesus invites us to consider not just murder, adultery, and false oaths but to examine the attitudes and motives that lie beneath the surface of such acts. Jesus is more concerned with how we act in relationship to one another. Am I completely honest? Are my words consistent with my actions? Do I seek revenge, or do I avoid retaliation? Do I honor the dignity of all people?
 
God has given us the law not to make life difficult, not to be prohibitive, but in order that we might live life to the fullest extent. Through his expression of the law, Jesus shows us how to love others in the same way God loves us–with compassion, dignity, and respect for all.
 
– In what areas of your life do you need to be more attentive to the “spirit of the law” and not merely the “letter of the law”?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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