1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

1st Reading – Genesis 2:7–9; 3: 1-7

The Catholic approach to Scripture is not as literal history. We read this story as an allegory about how sin comes into our lives – innocent-seeming, a mere suggestion or conversation that soon develops legs – and lies — and walks away with our whole future. Sin is ‘clever’ that way. It asks us simply to say no to God — to believe a lie, rather than the truth of God’s Word. Once we’re willing to do that, anything is possible. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, Feb. 2005)

The Eden story was a drama woven of pretense and cover-up. Adam and Eve were like us willing to ‘bite on a big lie.’ There is a little fake in all of us. Freud said that the major barrier to healing is the wounded person who asks for help, but is secretly unwilling to face the truth that healing requires. Adam and Eve had everything they needed, and more. Their only ‘problem’ was their ‘creature-hood.’ When they did not want to accept this truth, they became susceptible to the Lie – to the serpent – to the attraction of having no limits. They refused to accept their need for God; they wanted self-sufficiency, self-made security. That is the root of human sinfulness. Through that same, one lie of self-sufficiency and pride, sin entered (and enters) the world. It looked so attractive, so desirable, so wise.   BUT in Christ we are able to accept the truth; to trust again in the true Word of God. Through Christ we have the grace, the power, the way to choose freedom, redemption. We can disown the big lie of Eden as we embrace the real truth of Gethsemane. This Lent let us pray for the grace to be able to say with Christ: “Abba. Let your will be my will,” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  (John Kavanaugh, S.J., http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The experience of Adam and Eve, mythic or not, has also become the experience of each of us. We are Adam; we are Eve; we have sinned and are culpable before God. But rather than succumb to the temptation to hide ‘behind fig leaves’, we can take this time of Lent to open ourselves to God – to ‘uncover’ ourselves in loving trust before God who knows us and loves us and who can heal us so we can better love God and others. (Celebration, Feb. 2005 & “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – Romans 5: 12-19

Sin can be contagious – BUT GRACE IS EVEN MORE CONTAGIOUS!!!  Paul wants us to know the Good News: Christ has come among us to break solidarity with sin – to dispel the darkness of sin. (Celebration, Feb. 2002)

This type of scripture interpretation that Paul is using is called typology. It was often used by early Christians to help them understand the ‘need’ for the Old Testament in the light of Christ. They would interpret earlier persons, things, or events from the O.T. as foreshadowing what later happens with Christ. For example, the story of Noah’s flood washing away wickedness becomes a foreshadowing of baptism (1 Peter 3: 20-21). Manna foreshadows the Eucharistic bread, and so on. Here Paul is doing the same thing. He is using the story of Adam as a type of foreshadowing of Christ. Both are seen as the beginning of different realities. Most of the time, typology stresses similarities, but here Paul is stressing the differences. The ‘Adam-type’ brings transgression, disobedience, sin, judgment, condemnation, and death. Christ brings the gift, obedience, righteousness, grace, acquittal and life eternal. In Christ the age-old enemy is defeated. A new age is dawning; the kingdom is drawing near. (“Working with the Word,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel – Matthew 4: 1-11

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert immediately after his baptism.  “This is my beloved, on whom my favor rests.”  Notice that these words of total acceptance by God are spoken before Jesus had done anything of great significance.  This is critical to realize and remember as we enter our own times of wandering in life’s deserts (Wandering with God, Feb. 1993, p. 8)

Why would the Spirit drive Jesus out into the desert, especially now after what just happened?  In Mark, it says, “the Spirit immediately drove him out,” (Mark 1:12).Did Spirit know what would happen there?  It sounds a little harsh, at first glance.  But Spirit is not way outside of ourselves.  Spirit is within.  It is our deepest inner desire that calls us outward.  So Spirit was driving Jesus out to the desert because that is where Jesus truly wanted to be.  Jesus wanted that space to himself.  He needed the stillness.  His ministry lay before him.  He had a lot to figure out.  He needed to keep it simple.  He needed less.  Intentions were good.  Satan seemed to have other plans, though.

The word, Satan, has been used in scripture to mean many things: the talebearer, the accuser, the seducer, the one or the thing that separates us from God, that which brings or likes darkness.  What do you make of the use of Satan here?  (“the Perspective of Justice,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

FASTING can be a form of prayer for God’s help when making a difficult decision.  The act of fasting redirects the heart away from worldly activities and towards the remembrance of God.  Jesus was faced with a life-changing decision, so he fasted, helping himself be open to God’s word and guidance.  From what can we fast that could help us hear God more clearly?

Jesus was tested in the desert. But even there he continued to listen to his Abba’s words and to trust in his love over possessions, honor, pride. Jesus held on to the great love of his life. This Lent let us try to be again more like Jesus. May we re-balance our priorities.  Jesus recommends this way: “Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”  (John Foley, S/J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The tempter beckons Jesus to choose a new center for his life instead of God:  power (bread into stones), influence and control (throw self off temple), and exalted recognition bought at the price of false worship (all these kingdoms can be yours).  Jesus lives in fidelity to who he is:  gifted for responsible choices.  He refuses the “easy way out,” which leads away from fuller human life.  What are some important choices you had to make this week?  Why is the desert necessary for full human living?  (Breaking Open the Work of God, cycle A, p. 43-44)

Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:

  1. His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
  2. He is called to serve, not to be served.
  3. He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.

The word for tempt here in Greek is peirazein, which actually means “to test”.  Here is a great and uplifting truth. What we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin.  It is not means to make us bad, it is meant to make us good.  It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal.  Temptation is not the penalty of being a human, temptation is the glory of being a human.  It is the test which comes to a person whom God wishes to use.  So, then, we must think of this whole incident, not so much the tempting of Jesus, as the testing of Jesus  (Barclay, Daily Bible Study Series, p. 63).

Other thoughts from Barclay:

  • We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts. It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be for ever on the watch.
  • No one can ever read this story without remembering that its source must have been Jesus himself. It is Jesus telling us his own spiritual autobiography.

Let us pray…

Remembering the sign of ashes as our call to repentance, let us sign ourselves as a reminder of our identity.

Let us place our right hands on our foreheads;

and we remember the Creator God, the Giver of Life,

the one who formed us, knows us, loves us.

And let us place our right hands on our hearts;

and we remember the Redeemer God, the Reconciler,

the one who offers freedom and peace to our hearts.

And let us place our right hand on our left shoulders;

and we remember the Sanctifier God, the Empowerer,

the one who inspires creativity, healing and wholeness.

And we place our hand on our right shoulders;

and we continue to remember the Sanctifier,

the one who offers us reason and faith.

And we bring our hands together;

we remember our identity as men and women

marked by the Sign of the Cross,

and together we can assent with an Amen.

Amen.

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