FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (2020)
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Psalms 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
We have entered into the season of Lent, a time given us by the Church to prepare for the great feast of our redemption, the Feast of Easter. It is not unlike the “forty days and forty nights” that Jesus fasted in the desert, a time used to prepare Himself for His active ministry by drawing closer to God, with the shield of the desert protecting Him from the noisy crowds which will surround Him on a nearly daily basis. But even here in the desert, He could not be protected from the temptations which are, unfortunately, the lot of human kind.
The conflated version of Genesis, which is our first reading (some 20+ verses are omitted from Genesis, Chapter 2), might make us think that no sooner had God created man (and woman) than he was tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent, the “most cunning of all the animals” that the Lord God had just made earlier in Chapter 1. The reality is that even in the perfect world of Eden it was possible to desire something other than God. God had created and given Adam and Eve everything they could possibly need, but their desire to be like God, who was omniscient and powerful, was greater than their sense of gratitude for all that they had been given. Adam and Eve mistakenly thought they could control God, and so they did what they were asked not to do. Where man exists there is temptation, and even when that man is the Son of God, there is temptation, as our gospel passage from Matthew demonstrates so clearly.
There is no serpent or wife to tempt Jesus in the desert, but when His hunger peaked, He was tempted by the devil to use His power to turn stones into bread. To do so would be a purely selfish abuse of His godlike power, a power that would soon be used to heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, and raise the dead. And so Jesus refused the devil’s urging. Next the devil takes Jesus to the parapet of the Temple which stood high above the city, and he quotes Scripture to Him, hoping it will convince Jesus to compromise His divine principles: “It is written that God’s angels will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Were Jesus to succumb to the devil’s urging, how hard it would have been to not ask those same angels to deliver Him from the pain of the cross. Jesus’ power is not for show, and His true strength lies in His ability to surrender to the will of a God who He knows loves Him. The devil was unable to “put God to the test.”
Lastly, the devil once again assaults Jesus’ understanding of where true power lies, and he offers Him governance over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus knows that He came into this world not to overtake it, but to lead it back to His father. He was uninterested in being the worldly and powerful Messiah that so many wanted Him to be, and so here too the devil fails, and disappears, but only for a moment.
Jesus is our model during this Lenten season, when, like every day, we are tempted to desire more power, prestige, and prosperity. We want “more” of everything, and we want “control” of our destiny, feeling that only we know what is best for ourselves. We foolishly at times even think that we can control God. The temptation to reduce discipleship into something that we manage, even manipulate, remains with all of us. We are always tempted to make faith into something that we handle, not a way by which we surrender.
Ashes and Masses, dogmas and dictates, cannot draw us closer to God this Lent if we don’t surrender ourselves into the hands of a loving God, like Jesus did. We foolishly believe that piling up good works and prayers, almsgiving and fasting we will virtually propel ourselves into heaven, no matter how we live our lives. We will never earn heaven. As our second reading so beautifully states: “Just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one (Jesus), the many will be made righteous.” Like Jesus, we are called in all humility to surrender ourselves into the hands of a God who loves us unconditionally, who provides for us, and who gives us the gift of salvation that we could never possibly earn. If we work more this Lent at surrendering ourselves to God’s plan for us, and try less to manipulate or manage God, then we can expect at Easter to be granted the “clean heart” spoken of by the psalmist.
“A clean heart create for me, O God,
And a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
And your Holy Spirit take not from me.”