February 14 2016

1st Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2; 9-12; 14-16

Luke 4:1-13


I think it is a well-known fact that the wealth of many Australians is linked to the property that they own. Indeed for many in Australia, security, especially financial security, can be achieved by owning a property. And most people would expect that the value of their property will grow significantly over the years. For example within the last 10 years the median price of a house in Sydney has risen 92%. Melbourne witnesses an even sharper rise: the median price of a house there has risen 103% in 10 years![1] So if you happen to own a property either in Sydney or Melbourne, you are indeed a happy person ... at least according to the world’s standard.

But the psalmist in our reading from the Psalm 91 today begs to differ. For him true security belongs not to the one who owns a house or a property as their main asset, but the one who has God as their main ‘asset’. He declares that true security belongs to the ones who have God as their shelter (v.1) and dwelling place (v.9).[2]

Now don’t get me wrong. For the people of Israel attaining wealth was not evil.

Indeed at the very foundation of their faith was the belief that God had given the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, for Israel’s’ benefit. Yes, God gave the land to Israel so that Israel could be prosperous.

But the land belonged to God and not to them. That was why, in our reading from the book of Deuteronomy, during each harvest, the people of Israel must offer the first crop to God in the temple. They must recite the story about their ancestors to the priest in the temple to remind them of who they were and the goodness that God had done to them. The practice was done so that the people of Israel would never forget that they did not own the land; God gave the land to them for the benefit of all.

Sadly the goodness and the richness of the world have often made people greedier and forget that it is all a gift from God. But we don’t own the world and its richness.

The earth is not our creation; it is created for us. And the gift is given so that we can all be prosperous in God’s world. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the world is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.

So we must ask the same question that the people of Israel must never stop asking themselves: who/what resides at the very center of our life? Is it God or is it the richness and wealth that the world offers?

This question also lied at the heart of the temptations that Jesus experienced in the desert. The Devil forced Jesus to decide which one was the true foundation of his being: food, glory, security, or God? It was clear in the passage that God, especially God’s words, was the foundation of Jesus’ very being. Jesus declared that he could survive without food or glory or security, but he would never survive without God.

Today we too are invited to look at our selves and ask, “What is the most important thing in our life? “If everything and everyone in our life are taken from us, what is left there?” “Is it the material thing that we have? Or is it God and God’s love for all?”

Meister Eckhart, a Dominican priest who lived in the 13th century, once said that we could get to God by what he called as a process of subtraction. What he meant with that is that we can find God by letting go, by ridding ourselves of everything until there is only God.[3] Indeed during this season of Lent we are invited to reflect on the same question that Jesus and Israel asked: if everything else is gone, what lies at the heart of our life?

I once watched a video about a poor street vendor who was selling food in a park in Colombo, Sri Lanka. An actor pretended to be a genuine buyer approached the vendor and bought a food from him. But instead of giving the right amount of money to pay for the food, the actor gave a significantly more amount of more money to the vendor and simply left. At first the street vendor was a bit confused about what to do with the money, but he then immediately chased the actor and offered the money back.

“You paid too much Sir,” the vendor said.
“The money is yours,” said the actor, “I gave it to you.”
But the vendor insisted the actor to take the money back.
“Sir, I don’t need the money,” he said, “I have enough from what I sell. Please give it to other people who need the money more than I do.”

This video is only one of many similar videos depicting similar generosity from the poor. In another video, an actor gave a homeless man, who seemed to be hungry, a box of pizza all for himself. Another actor than disguised himself as a homeless man and sat next to the homeless man who received the pizza. The actor then asked if he could get a slice of pizza because he was really hungry. Without a second thought the homeless man said to the actor, “Here take a slice or two. There is plenty here!”

Now we may feel rather uneasy about doing social experiment such as these with the poor, but there is a lesson to be learned here. Despite living in poverty, these people did not live in what Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called as Scarcity Mentality. Scarcity Mentality sees “life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there.  And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else,” he says. This kind of mentality results in people giving last.

On the other hand Abundance Mentality “is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”[4]

These two poor people obviously live with an Abundance Mentality. “There is plenty here!” said the homeless man in the second video, ignoring the fact the he may need the pizza to quench his hunger later on. But for him sharing what he had with another man, who seemed to suffer from the same hunger, was the single most important thing in that moment.

I guess poor people are often the ones whose hearts have not been spoiled by the excesses of material things that many times they still often find in their hearts compassion for others. We, on the other hand, often have too many material things that many times we find it hard to find compassion under the excesses that wealth creates in our life.

Lent, I hope, is journey when we can clean up the “junks” in our life and hopefully find, residing at the very heart of our life, God and His Love for all. And we can achieve that by sharing with others the richness that we have received. Only then that we can proclaim once again that God is the Lord of the universe and the Lord of our life.


Rev. Toby Keva

 [1] Simon Evans, Property Returns Trounce Shares in Past Decade, on www.smh.com.au (February 10 2016)

[2] New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

[3] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion - Lent 2016 (February 21-28, 2016), p. 37

[4] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion - Lent 2016 (February 21-28, 2016), p. 37