Many have a gift for storing scripture in their memory bank. In some it’s a bank of good will, in others, evil is the only interest. In the latter case, scripture is merged with one’s own interests to achieve a selfish end, whether that be fame, fortune, or downright mastery over other lost souls.
The movie Elmer Gantry comes to mind. It’s the story of a charming con man played by Burt Lancaster who teams with a female gospel revivalist to take their “show” on the road. They can both cite chapter and verse from the Bible to suit their purposes—much as Satan did when he tempted Jesus throughout the 40 days in the desert that were to prepare Christ for his earthly mission. The following scene from the movie is good prep for Sunday’s gospel. The face-to-face combat between truth and lies as depicted in both is more chilling than the dangers portrayed in any standard-issue horror movie:
Now here’s that passage from Luke’s account of when the Masters of Truth and Lies confronted each other (Lk 4:1-13):
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. … Then [the devil] led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
Satan is an expert in what is written in the Bible, just as he is an expert at what motivates humanity. These are the things written in our hearts. What we say is one thing, but our actions are a direct result of our heart’s programming. St. Paul tells the Romans something similar in this Sunday’s second reading (Rom 10:8-13):
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we preach—for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Salvation has been humanity’s motivation since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. People hoping to be saved from other people is our inheritance from the first Adam. It’s that way to this day—just involving different geography. In this excerpt from Sunday’s first reading (Dt 26:4-10), you can replace the word “Egyptians” with “Chinese Communists,” “North Korean regime,” “Kremlin,” ISIS, or Syrian government, and what is written in Deuteronomy would still be current with wat’s written in the hearts of all hoping to escape from humanity’s evil and into the arms of God:
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt … he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
We who live in “The Free World” and enjoy our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness live by the Golden Rule. Some ascribe this ethic to secular humanism while others live it as part of their Judeo-Christian coding. As we Christians enter the season of Lent, let’s try to update our heart’s coding and replenish our soul’s bank of good will.
Have a blessed Lent.
Before you leave, let’s close this week’s blog with some truths gleaned from what might seem a surprising source: the world of corporate marketing. My friend and colleague Melinda Beckett-Maines is a veteran of that world, but she also represents a profession dedicated to healthy living and empathy: nursing. In these two short videos, she addresses the importance of corporate citizenship—but they’re also good prep for exorcising our inner Elmer Gantry. By regularly helping others in our life’s supply chain, we’ll find it easier to rescue the truth from our soul’s lost & found.