1st Sunday Of Lent
9 March 2014.
Tony van Vuuren
For most people, reality is that which we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste; it is the world around us. For the Christian, however, reality extends beyond the physical environment and encompasses a whole spiritual realm as well; both the glory of heaven and Satan’s realm of darkness.
The devil is a reality of our world, and he challenges us, by waging war against us day and night!
The two themes in today’s readings that ring out loud and clear are Sin and Temptation. Both are most appropriate to reflect on for this first Sunday of Lent, as we begin our Lenten observances.
A time for us all to be encouraged and inspired to get tough and aggressive with whatever sins or temptations we may be facing in our lives. What better time than the forty days ahead for us to prepare and equip ourselves to start this journey into the desert of Lent and of our lives? And what better readings are there to break open this topic of sin and temptation than today’s selection? We all battle with sin and temptation.
No one who has ever lived on earth has been exempt from this day to day challenge. Even if one is sinless (Jesus, Mary), the fact of facing the temptation of sin remains. We all need help battling sin. We all want to live a life that is less sinful than the day before.
The book of Genesis presents the tragedy of wrong choices in front of good and evil; an evil that is born in the heart of mankind, from our choices, our refusals and our stubbornness in using our own criteria instead of those of God.
Do we recognize ourselves in every character in the first reading from Genesis? As we all know too well from our own bad choices, the lines between good and evil are not exactly easy to determine sometimes and we are all too eager to let our vision be blurred.
We might wonder why the serpent was even allowed to exist in the Garden of Eden where all things were presumably paradisiacal. We wonder why God would have allowed such simple innocents as Adam and Eve to be tempted. Adam can blame Eve for handing him the apple. Eve can blame the serpent for tempting her.
The serpent can blame God for allowing him to exist and to tempt such unsophisticated innocents. Like Adam have we often entered into sin by simply following the behaviour of another? No deep thought processes, no moral deliberations. Have we simply followed another blindly?
Like Eve we have all faced temptations. We have entered into a conversation in our minds about right and wrong and we have rationalized our decision to give into temptation by pretending to find some good in it — some advantage in it — some power in it. Like the serpent how often have we seduced others into sinning?
Whether we, as children on a playground, have taught a younger child a swear word or a rude gesture or whether we are adults gossiping about someone else, to their detriment. Can we all find moments in our past where we have caused another to sin?
Pope Francis was quoted in last week’s Southern Cross that if everybody stopped gossiping we could all possibly be saints! We may also consider the absurdity of sin. St. Paul writes to the Romans (7) – “I do not understand my own actions. For the very thing that I do not want to do, I do, and the very thing I DO want to do, I do not do.”
Who amongst us has escaped that scenario in our lives? In the passage from the Gospel, Matthew presents the same temptation of Adam and Eve, but shows how Jesus is victorious and points out the way to live a life faithful to God and free from the profound evil that threatens us.
But the temptations also represent important categories to consider in our own lives. The first temptation is to provide more comfort for ourselves than we reasonably need or choose to have.
It may seem silly for us to equate Jesus being tempted to eat a bit of bread in the middle of his fast as overindulgence, but in the strict sense of the word that is what Jesus would be doing.
Jesus would be taking for himself more than he sees reasonably fit to take at a particular time in a particular place in his personal history.
We have all overindulged.
We are both temporal and spiritual beings and Jesus reminds us that there is a balance between these things. How many times have we caught ourselves trying to fill a deep need for comfort and intimacy with things that will never ultimately satisfy?
Food, Drink, Sex, Exercise, Clothes, Cars, Houses, Drugs, etc. Balance is required. Moral behaviour is required. And, a strong dependence upon God is required the most, when we have to struggle through our personal deserts with only God’s word to assure and sustain us.
Let’s rewrite a sentence of St. Augustine:” When you’re caught by the pangs of hunger – (and we can add of temptation) – let the Word of God become your bread of life, let Christ be your Bread of Life.”
The second temptation involves putting oneself in a situation to see how far one can go with God. By putting ourselves in a situation that is deliberately threatening and then we expect to be rescued by God. Risk taking in life may be required to fulfil the will of God, but what Jesus is being asked to do is to take a risk for his own prestige — for his own gain.
Jesus simply responds – “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” How many times have we put ourselves in dangerous situations and have then remorsefully prayed for and relied upon the help of God to keep us out of trouble; Irresponsible drinking and driving, financial mismanagements, promiscuous sexual liaisons, cheating, lying, criminal behaviours?
Finally, Satan tempts Jesus with the possibility of immediately gaining immense power. Jesus’ response is – “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
We can so easily be lured by prestige and titles while we slowly lose our dependence upon the one true God.
Overindulgence, putting ourselves in dangerous and irresponsible situations, and wanting to exercise power over others are three major categories of temptations that we are faced with every day.
Jesus does give us a way out — a way to defend ourselves; and that has to do with dependence upon God. We may never be completely sin-free but if we focus all of our energies upon being completely dependent upon God, we are guaranteed to be tempted less.
Let us remember that Prayer, alms giving and fasting are significant and lasting ways for us to become closer to God.
The temptation scenario described by Matthew is no pretend-temptation. Jesus couldn’t just brush aside the choices placed before him, not if he were, as the Scriptures tell us, “fully human.”
But Jesus comes out of the desert as the one who has overcome Satan; he faced real temptations and rejected them in favour of God and God’s ways–as mysterious as those ways can seem at times.
We pray today for a renewed gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we can remain faithful to our calling and, as Jesus says to us today — worship “the Lord your God” and serve God alone.
By trying to make some meaningful change to our lives we are all faced with a serious but joyful challenge for Lent 2014.