As I take up the position of Dean of the Cathedral it seems appropriate to turn for inspiration in the days ahead to the scriptures which will be read on my first Sunday at St Patrick’s. Only, they aren’t very comforting. They seem, in fact, to promise an abundance of hard work.
Job, in our first reading, struggles with a sense of futility, wondering, what is the point? St Paul speaks of the duty laid upon him, which requires him to be a slave to all, seeking no reward other than the work itself. Even in the Gospel, Our Lord heals St Peter’s mother-in-law, and she is immediately back at work, waiting on them. Lots of hard work and not much fun, it seems.
It all seems a little disheartening, actually. But isn’t that an experience we all have, at least from time to time? The feeling that the work in front of me is great and that the life the Lord is calling me to seems rather hard. Surely it is easier to just do what we want.
That of course is the temptation. And temptation is the proper word for that feeling. It is why the Gospel passage we hear goes on to repeatedly stress that a large part of Jesus’s ministry at his point is driving out the forces of evil. Because the heart of the temptation is more than just laziness. The heart of the temptation is not just to take the easy path, but to wilfully misunderstand God’s plan for us.
It is the psalm that puts it so clearly, calling us to praise the Lord, because He wishes to heal us, and lift us up. To recognise that the one who made the stars and, indeed, the vastness of the universe, cares intimately about each one of us. The tasks he sets us are precisely what will most surely make us able to receive all the gifts he wishes to shower upon us. A fast moving modern electric scooter or board, can be a lot of fun, but it is no gift for a child who has not yet learned to balance. It takes practice, indeed hard work (plus a few falls) to be able to handle that power.
How much more is needed to prepare ourselves to handle the power of being like God, which is the gift He wishes to give us. It requires us to cast out the temptation to take the easy path, the lying voice that says “it’s not worth it.” To have the confidence of the psalmist in the goodness of the Lord and his promises, and the assurance of St Paul that the work we do is its own reward, because it makes us ready for the gifts to come.
As we stand near the threshold of Lent, may we, whatever the tasks put before us, take these words to heart.
Father Chris Denham