1st Sunday of Lent 2011

13 March 2011

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12, 17-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Some years ago I spent some months in France to learn French. Whilst there I met a Catholic couple who were very helpful to me. One day the wife said to me that shortly after their marriage she told her husband that he would always be second in her life as God would have the first place. He was not in any way as religious as she was and he could not accept what she said. In fact he was quite jealous of God as he felt that he himself and not God should be the centre of their relationship. Maybe she was a bit naïve in telling that to him.

This first Sunday of Lent presents the drama of temptation. This is primarily what the first reading and the gospel are about. It is not so much about forbidden fruit in the case of the Genesis reading but what place does God have in our lives. Is God jealous of us? Do we fully realise that our lives are a gift from God and so we owe him everything. How central is he to us? How aware of God are we daily or is it just when we are at mass on Sunday or say some prayers?

According to John 8.44 the devil is “the father of lies and there is no truth in him at all”. So in the first reading the devil is telling lies to our first parents Adam and Eve. He says that ‘God is jealous and does not want to share his knowledge of good and evil with you. He does not want you to be his equal.  He jealously wants to keep things to himself. Eat the fruit that is forbidden and you will be equal to God’. Sadly Adam and Eve believe the lie told them by the devil. He tricks them, he cheats them. They eat the fruit as the story goes and their eyes are opened and they realise they are naked. In other words, they see that their sin, not God, has stripped them of happiness, peace and contentment in the relationship they had with God prior to the devil tricking them with his lies.

It is like the case of a young man who is pressurised by his friends to take drugs. They tell him he will be much happier if he uses them. He believes them and soon he is enslaved by drugs. He becomes almost sub-human the more dependent on drugs he is. It is hardly God who can be blamed for punishing him.

The devil has tricked Adam and Eve by lying to them saying that God wanted to deprive them of what would give them total happiness. Instead of trusting God and believing in him they believe the devil’s lie.

This then is the centre of all temptation, not to believe God, not to trust God. To put ourselves at the centre and decide without listening to God what we want to do with our lives. That is the choice we have. 

It is the same dynamic at work in the gospel. The devil tries to trick Jesus. It is a temptation to take the wrong turning, to centre on self instead of on God. Jesus realised that he had great powers and he could have used them to go on a big ego-trip.  If he had done what the devil wanted him to do he could have had a huge following. The Jews were expecting a political messiah, one who would overthrow the Romans. If Jesus had used his powers to turn stones into bread or whatever else he wished, if he had jumped down from the temple, and if he received all the kingdoms and their splendour promised by the devil, imagine what power he would have had over people.

Thus the devil tries to seduce or trick the human Jesus with an offer of immediate power, with a short-cut to success. Basically he tempts Jesus to cheat on his humanity.  He wants him to avoid living as fully as possible the human condition.  It was a call to instant gratification.

But Jesus rejects all three temptations. His firm conviction is that as a human being one does not doubt God. Even if God promises are not immediately present and fulfilled our faith calls us to trust that God is on our side. This is the message of the temptations. God will do everything to help us in this life because he is a father who loves us passionately and unconditionally. He is not holding anything back from us. He gives us all he knows we need. He is not a jealous parent who does not want us to live a full and happy life. No. God wants us to be truly happy and he is saying that we cannot be happy apart from him.

Jesus is showing us the path to follow. Jesus is all for God. He never doubts God’s designs, his plans for our good even in the midst of his own terrible suffering. This is basically what our faith and trust is about. It is a call us to believe God’s promises. This is what we must cling to with the help of the Holy Spirit, especially in times of crisis and pain. Is God with us? Indeed he is. But are we with God?

The Good News is that despite our doubts and failures Jesus knows our struggles to overcome temptation. He experienced them.  In the letter to the Hebrew 4.15-16 we are told: “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us. But we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident then in approaching the throne of grace, we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”

“Lord Jesus, help us to believe this and trust in your great desire to help us especially when tempted”.

 Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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