Sunday, March 9, 2014

every word that comes from the mouth of God

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

While I was serving in the US army I became a vegetarian. A few months after I made that decision, my unit went to spend a day down at the firing range. We got an early start – I think we loaded up the troops on the trucks at around 6.30 in the morning. So you can imagine that when lunchtime rolled around we were all pretty hungry. Lunch that day consisted of packages of M-R-Es – meals ready to eat. If you haven't come across those, the packages have all kinds of things individually wrapped and sealed inside a thick brown plastic bag about the size of a good sized lunch box – a main course, a desert, a chocolate bar, coffee powder, some dried milk, a sachet of sugar, and a few other bits and pieces.

Now this was in the days before the army had different kinds of MREs to cater for different dietary requirements, so there was no vegetarian option. But there was one where the main course was divided into two separately wrapped portions, one a large piece of ham and the other potatoes au gratin, basically potatoes and cheese. I normally took that, gave away the meat and ate the rest. But this day there wasn't any of that available. The one I got had as the main course a pack of spaghetti bolognese which had the meat and the pasta and the sauce all mixed together. So rather glumly, I ate the desert and the chocolate bar, but I was still hungry. I rooted around in the bag, and found a little roll of hard candies. But I was still hungry. So I swallowed the sachets of sugar and dried milk too … and I was still hungry. All I had left was the sachet of coffee and the spaghetti bolognese. I guess I might as well tell you now that a spoonful of coffee powder on its own not only does nothing at all to take away hunger pangs, but it tastes pretty awful too. So that just left me staring at the spaghetti bolognese, thinking that it was going to be a mighty long time before the trucks started rolling back to our unit and I'd have a chance to get something more to eat. And I have to admit that my resolve was starting to weaken. The longer I looked at that packet the hungrier I got and all the reasons I had for becoming a vegetarian were starting to seem pretty weak … there's few arguments as loud or as strong as a rumbling stomach!

It is extraordinary, isn't it, what a powerful force a little temptation can be? Becoming a vegetarian was not a decision I had made lightly; I had thought long and hard about it for many years and there I was, ready to chuck it in because I wanted a bigger lunch! Which is why today's Gospel reading today, with Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, is so important. It not only shows us that being tempted is normal, but also that it isn't beyond us to resist the temptations we face. And note carefully the reply that Jesus makes to the devil during the first temptation, to abuse his powers to turn stones into bread. He says: It is written, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The profundity of that statement is immense. First, it reminds us that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe – it was his creative word that brought all things into being and causes them to continue in existence. It is literally by his word that we live and have the things we need for this life. Secondly it speaks of the fact that we were created by God to be in relationship with him and part of the way that he fosters that relationship with us is through his revealed word in Sacred Scripture. As St As St Augustine famously said: 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.' We need more than just bread to live; we need that living word from God so that our hearts can rest in him, the place they are meant to be. And it also reminds us of the need we have for Christ in our lives; for he is the Word made flesh. Having been tempted himself, he understands what it is we face daily; and he strengthens us to resist, because as weak and frail human beings we can do nothing in our own strength; and he forgives us when we fail, as long as we truly repent and resolve to turn away from those sins that separate us from him, from the Word of God by which we truly live. And he comes to us himself in the Holy Eucharist, to fill our souls with the grace and strength that we need to resist temptation and lead our lives in accordance with the will of God, the lives we created to live. Without bread we will indeed die; but without the bread of life Christ gives us as the Word made flesh in the Holy Eucharist we die to eternal life.


The story of my vegetarian dilemma has a happy ending, you'll be glad to know. Just as I was getting very close to thinking I had no other choice but to rip open that packet of spaghetti bolognese, someone shouted over 'Hey, wasn't someone over there looking for potatoes au gratin?' And my very minor problem was solved. We all face much greater problems every day; much greater temptations; and the damage done by giving into them is far more far-reaching. But if we hold fast to our faith in God, trusting that we sustained by his almighty word, and strengthened by the sacraments he provides through his Church, then we will overcome all obstacles. It is my prayer that you will – in the Name Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.  

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