Paint me as un-American; I didn’t watch a minute of the Super Bowl.  I know… I know…I was tired, fighting off a head cold a few days out from Ash Wednesday, and honestly, I really couldn’t care less.  I don’t usually anyway, but with all that was going on, I was maxed out from trying to pretend this year.  That being said, even without watching it, though, it’s everywhere so you can’t escape knowing what happened: the close game that went into overtime, resulting in the Chiefs winning back-to-back Super Bowls; the Taylor Swift sightings; and what commercials were the best.  The Super Bowl is probably the only day of the year that people genuinely tune in to watch the commercials and discuss them.  Marketing executives pour in the best of creativity for the largest television audience of the year to get people to talk about their advertisements and hopefully generate buzz for whatever they are selling.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT February 18, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

Once again, this non-profit organization, whose purpose is to “share the life and love of Jesus in thought-provoking new ways,” sponsored an ad that generated a lot of discussion.    For the last few years, the “He Gets Us” campaign has taken out ads during the Super Bowl, and this year, they had a spot called “Foot Washing.” With a remake of the INXS song “Never Tear Us Apart” playing in the background, they showed still image pictures of different races, classes, genders, and religions washing one another’s feet – even across some obvious ideological divides.  One of their spokespersons explained that the goal was quite simply:  that Jesus loved and cared for anyone and everyone – as the commercial echoed ending with four sentences that went across the screen saying:

Jesus didn’t teach hate.
He washed feet.
He gets us.  All of us.

Not only did this spot go viral, but it also became somewhat controversial from probably every vantage point.  From one corner, critics pointed out that with ad rates of $7 million for 30 seconds and “Foot Washing” clocked in at a minute, there was the camp arguing “Jesus wouldn’t have spent $14 million on a Super Bowl ad, he would’ve given it to the poor, the hungry, the homeless.” (Which is kind of an intellectually lazy argument that ignores that worldwide Christianity is and has been the biggest charitable provider for everybody and all those and many other causes, so not an entirely well-founded argument, but, whatever)  Others took issue with the individuals depicted in the pictures.  There was a variety of modern contexts of one person washing the feet of another: from immigrants exiting a bus to clashing protest groups, including outside an abortion clinic where a confused pregnant woman gets her foot washed while there are Pro-Life protestors in the background.  So, some critics felt the organizers were making and taking very liberal progressive political points and accusing those who hold more traditional conservative stances.   Some went deep diving and looked into who is involved in the foundation and were convinced this was a trap because as “progressive” or “woke” as the one camp was arguing those images were, those who donated to create and run them had a history of being so outspoken in their Christian beliefs and so intolerant (you know believing really radical things like marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman for life and that life begins at conception) so viewers shouldn’t be fooled, and somehow the ads were a trap.

Just reading the reactions and opinion pieces and seeing people making their counter-commercials of what the original ads should’ve said, you could argue that the group’s goal of sharing Jesus’s life and love in thought-provoking new ways was successful.  Jesus provoked and provokes lots of division – as its has been said, Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.   And It’s hard to argue with their summary, “Jesus didn’t teach hate.  He washed feet.  He gets us.  All of us.” All of that is true.  And the reactions to me were interesting, giving a lot of food for thought for various reasons.

He gets us.   All of us.  If people walk away with that message and it opens some space for the Holy Spirit within to prompt curiosity, that’s a great thing.  Maybe someone needed to hear those truths.  Maybe their experience of people acting in Jesus’ name has yet to bear that out.  Maybe the misconceptions others have made about Jesus and those of us trying our best to follow Him have manipulated the thoughts and perspectives of people who don’t know Him or us that some public relations messaging is helpful and impactful.  It would be hard to argue against any of that.  On many levels, I understand and appreciate the work this group is trying to do.

But, for those of us who, praise God, find ourselves here, we have to know there’s a lot more to it than nodding in agreement with an advertisement and reacting to it on social media as we move along to the next commercial for Coors Light or some snack.  Unfortunately, in our world, with its minutes-long attention span (at best) on anything, that can be very easily the case.  Where at the end of the Super Bowl, people are left saying, “Chiefs won, Jesus is cool, gotta get some Doritos.”

Putting the Chiefs aside (and the Doritos) -Jesus is more than cool.  Not a way, a truth, a life, but He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.   And who He is is our Savior – who has come to save us… show us the way out of sin and death.

He gets us.  All of us.  That all of us as human beings on our own, left to our own devices, are way too quick to fall for the same twists and manipulations and diabolical plans of the devil.  The Devil, or Satan – is always consistent – first, he lies and deceives, and then he accuses.  So he tempts us to sin and then keeps reminding us that that’s all we are is sinners.  That’s what happened in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.   And just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis, which we heard from in the first reading at Mass today, we get to this excerpt from the story of Noah.   The Church gives us this brief passage to bring to mind the whole story of why there was a flood and the ark.  After Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, God, in His love, provided and created a new path forward for them.  Yet, as humanity had grown and multiplied, unfortunately, so had the brokenness and waywardness of mankind.  The parental example of Adam and Eve has affected the offspring, and now sin is seemingly everywhere.  As Genesis describes, the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  It’s breathtaking to read that.  But then Genesis continues “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Where Adam and Eve literally had ONE JOB and failed, Genesis will tell us, “Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.” So God sees hope in the heart of the creation he has made.  That man can be obedient, listen to God, and flourish.  That’s why God directed Noah to build the ark.  He’s not going to obliterate the world and wipe it out, which we couldn’t blame him if He did.  It is His creation, and his creatures were messing it all up.  But God decides to re-create things, starting over again with the obedience of Noah.  All will not be lost.  Humanity, creation itself, is saved from sin on that ark and will continue when the waters recede.  And the rainbow we hear about in today’s reading, its meaning, its true meaning, its only true meaning is a sign of God’s covenant with humanity.  That cleansing flood was a once-in-creation thing.  God would never direct that type of occurrence in creation to eliminate evil from the face of the earth again.

But as righteous as Noah was.  He was very much human.  And spoiler alert, after the floods, after this “re-creation” the human condition still seemed prone to fall for the twists and manipulations and diabolical plans of the devil.  This is why God Himself comes down and becomes one of us, one with us in the incarnation.  Jesus Christ, fully God and man is called the “new Adam” – the righteous one who is singularly focused on doing (and showing) it is possible to do all that the Lord commands us.  The words of the psalm we sang today are more than just a nice sentiment, some pleasant thought or idealistic hope – Your ways O Lord are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.  In Jesus, He teaches us those words and demonstrates them for us.

This is why we hear about Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert every year on the First Sunday of Lent.  Of the three accounts from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, this one from Mark is the shortest with the least details.  But Mark, gives a very unique perspective in his sharing.  Mark’s description of the temptation parallels what happened with Adam and Eve back in Genesis.  The Biblical scholar Dr. John Bergsma explains, “Adam in the Garden and Jesus in the desert: both were tempted by Satan, both were among wild beasts, both were in the company of angels.” Jesus, as a New Adam, is superior to Adam in resisting temptation while Adam gives into them – with the added significance that Adam fell even though he was living in a God-created earthly paradise while Jesus prevails dwelling in a God-forsaken desert.

For humanity that wants to experience that re-creation, to follow the New Adam, we come to the Church, which has become “the New Ark,” and our sins are washed away, not drowning in some flood, but in the life-giving waters of Baptism.  That’s what St. Peter was expressing in today’s Second Reading.  The waters of Baptism have made us members of Jesus’ body and are restored us as God’s beloved sons and daughters.

Yes, Jesus Gets us.  All of Us.  This is why He has come and wants to offer His salvation to those who wish to receive it… The one correction I’d provide to that ad is there’s only one thing that Jesus does hate, permits us to hate, in fact, does teach us to hate is sin… is the devil and his forces and influences.  And, Yes, washing feet was a vital lesson Jesus lived, demonstrated, and taught as foundational for Christians, for every one of us as His disciples.  That’s at the heart of the almsgiving of service, one of the three Gospel principles along with Fasting and Prayer that are essential to our faith lives.  That’s why we focus and emphasize Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in a particular way as Lent becomes our annual Spiritual Spring Training.  Because we know even after being saved in our Baptisms, how often we find ourselves in the deserts of temptation in seemingly countless times and ways that seem to deny that.

This first week of Lent, maybe we can focus on the temptations we give into that undermine our dignity as God’s beloved sons and daughters.  The sins that diminish Jesus’ centrality in our lives.  Recognizing that we’re not alone in this desert, that Jesus is with us.  Longing to restore our baptismal dignity when we thoroughly examine our conscience, go to confession, and experience His healing and reconciliation.  Wanting to feed us with His very body and blood in the Eucharist to nourish us with His very self.  Yes Jesus gets us and knows how hard it is, that’s why He’s with us and gives us these ways to help us in our following Him.   May we let Him.