My name is Marcia Chatelain and I am a history professor and an activist and it is my pleasure to think about today’s reading, which is about Jesus’s temptation in the desert. During the Lenten season we often reflect about Jesus’s sacrifice and it causes us to think about the things that we can give up during the season in order to prepare ourselves for the mystery and wonder and the joy of the Easter season.
When I think about this reading in particular I think it is always relevant because in many ways I believe that Jesus’s temptation in the desert is an apt metaphor for the temptations that we live with in a society in which we see injustice all around us.
When I think about the ways that the devil tries to convince Jesus that if he follows his empty path, then he will receive relief from his hunger, from his thirst, from his desire for certainty about his struggle, I think about the choices that are put before people every day in terms of how to either amplify their level of privilege and power in society. Or the conscious choice to step away from it. When I think about the history of racism and white supremacist violence in the United States, in many ways I think for people in positions of power they are presented a subtle temptation from the moment they realize that inequality is an engine for many of the dynamics we see before us. So, in the ways that the devil showed Jesus the great wonders of the many kingdoms and in the many ways that the devil asked Jesus to bow before him, we find similar bargains in our society today.
If we participate in the inequality of segregation, then we are rewarded with the best neighborhoods and the best schools for our children. We receive the deepest sense of security, if we reject the notion that everyone should live with human dignity. We are afforded housing that is available to us if we can afford it and we forgot about those who cannot. If we believe that we are people who deserve more than others, then we see systems like the death penalty continue to have resonance in society that believes itself to be evolved.
There is a temptation, that we all live with, in the United States and that is the temptation to serve racism, to serve inequality, to bow down before it in order to see the riches that we can have. And so, when I talk to communities and churches that are truly struggling with how they are going to perform acts of justice, I return to this story. I talk about what Jesus is rejecting is the empty promises of a society that puts any one individual before another and rejecting that and the comforts that come with that, Jesus is able to not only love and move towards his purpose. He allows us to have a model of liberation that we can all bring ourselves closer and closer to. The Lenten season is an amazing time for us to be reflective and to seek redemption.
I also think it’s a time, through these readings, for us to re-commit ourselves to a more just and equitable society. The temptations are all around us; the rhetoric is all around us. But if we imagine ourselves atop the great mountain, and we see ourselves as people able to reject the empty promises of the Devil, then we were able to reject the empty promises of a society that tells us that that there are only winners and that we don’t have to think about losers. So, I hope that in this Lenten season as I spend time with communities in struggle and you spend time with communities in struggle, you return to this moment in Jesus’s journey. See the ways that we can say no to bigotry, to homophobia, to sexism, to racism, to ethnocentrism, and to xenophobia as a way of saying no to the devil who ultimately has no desire for us to realize Jesus is love and act with that love in the world.
Marcia Chatelain is a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015) she teaches about women’s and girls’ history, as well as black capitalism. Her book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright Publishing Co./ W.W. Norton, January 2020) examines the intricate relationship among African American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities, and the fast food industry. She is a current co-host of the Slate podcast, “The Waves,” which covers feminism, gender, and current events. An active public speaker and educational consultant, Chatelain has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. At Georgetown, she has won several teaching awards and served on the University’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in academia in recognition of her social media campaign #FergusonSyllabus, which implored educators to facilitate discussions about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She has held an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship at New America, a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
Take an opportunity to read and reflect on the Sunday readings during the first five weeks of Lent. Participants are provided with links to reflections on the Lectionary readings (Cycle A) written by scholars -- including weekly preaching from Catholic Women Preach. Then, each week participants share their insights in an online community discussion, guided by a facilitator.MORE INFO/REGISTER
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