First Sunday of Lent -Year: A
Gen. 2:7-9; 16-18, 25, 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-19; Mt. 4:1-11
A very overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route to the office in order to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated coffee cake. His office mates roundly chided him, but he only smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “What could I do? This is a very special cake.
This morning, out of my forced habit, I accidentally drove by my favorite bakery. There in the window were trays of the most delicious goodies. I felt that it was no accident that I happened to pass by, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you really want me to have one of these delicious coffee cakes, let me find a parking place in front of the bakery.’ Sure enough, on the ninth trip around the block, there it was!”
Temptation is strong, but we must be stronger. We should not tempt fate and we should not rationalize our actions. Lent is a time to ask oneself a number of questions. Where is my life really leading me? Is the hope of eternal life my aspiration? Have I tried to grow in the life of the Spirit through prayer, reading the Word of God and meditating on it, receiving the Sacraments, self-denial?
Have I been anxious to control my vices, my bad inclinations and passions, e.g., envy, love of food and drink? Have I been proud and boastful, thinking myself better in the sight of God and despising others as less important than myself? By persevering in fasting, penances and prayers, the faithful obtain the strength that they need to overcome their sinful tendencies.
The first reading, taken from the book of Genesis describes the “Original Temptation” – “You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil.” Adam and Eve were given the possibility of making a choice to live for God, dependent upon and obedient to His will, or to say no to God. The temptation to evil led Adam and Eve to an act of faithlessness and sin. Like Adam and Eve, we are all tempted to put ourselves in God’s place. Consequently, we resent every limit on our freedom, and we don’t want to be held responsible for the consequences of our choices.
The second reading St. Paul describes how the disobedience of Adam who fell to Satan’s Original Temptation brought him and us death and a broken relationship with God. Paul reminds us of the social consequences of sin. Sin is never a private affair, affecting only myself. When we sin, all our relationships are affected: our relationship with our inner self, our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our relationship with our God and our relationship with nature and the world in which we live.
Paul says that just as sin and death came through Adam, salvation and life come through Christ. Christ regained for us the right relationship with God that Paul calls justification, which comes to us as undeserved grace.
Today’s Gospel teaches us how the “desert experience” of fasting, praying, and soul-strengthening was a kind of spiritual “training camp” for Jesus which enabled him to confront his temptations successfully and then to preach the Good News of salvation. The Gospel also prescribes a dual action plan for Lent:
We should confront our temptations and conquer them as Jesus did, by fasting, prayer and the Word of God. We should renew our lives by true repentance and live the Good News of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to find out what he was made of Mark’s gospel puts it more strongly: “the Spirit drove him out into the desert” (1:12). The first temptation was “to turn these stones into loaves of bread.” A hungry man sees bread everywhere. A Hindu poet who used to write beautiful poems about the moon lost all his talent when he became impoverished. He saw nothing but chapatti (thortiyas) whenever he looked at the moon.
Jesus was hungry, but he saw beyond his own hunger; he would become a provider of food for the hungry. (A good man is not tempted by evil but by goodness.) Soon however he saw that this was not exactly what God was asking of him. The second temptation was to fame. Many false prophets had attempted to attract notice by doing spectacular feats. Jesus countered this by saying, equivalently, “One doesn’t play games with God.”
The third temptation was power. As a Jew he knew what power did to people; every day of his life he saw the Roman Empire at work. He knew that Roman emperors were ‘deified’- proclaimed gods – after their death; to Jews, who had a profound sense of the unity of God, this practice was an abomination.
Jesus rejected all these possibilities. The gospel text doesn’t tell us at that point what he chose to do, but the rest of his life made it plain. He chose the way of love, which is deep, unspectacular, and powerless.
The three temptations – turn stones into bread, jump off the Temple pinnacle, worship Satan – demonstrate three kinds of control: material, spiritual and civil. They correspond to three wrong evaluations: 1) those who have material resources are blessed by God; 2) those who have spiritual powers are blessed by God; 3) those who have national power are blessed by God.
These, in turn, correspond to three human-divine bargains: 1) I will worship You if you make me rich; 2) I will worship You if You endow me with magical powers; and 3) I will worship You if You give me political power.
There is a story about a bird that saw a cat carrying a can of worms. The worm made the bird’s mouth water, so he asked the cat how much each worm cost. The cat said that it was very cheap, only a feather per worm. So the bird plucked one feather and gave it to the cat. A little later, he again craved for a worm, so he plucked another feather and bought another worm. His cravings were not satisfied, so he kept on buying worms with his feathers. He never realized that he was losing his feathers, and when he saw the cat about prey on him, he could not fly away to escape that cat anymore.
The point is clear that temptation is a fact of life. It is everywhere. Nobody is really strong in the face of temptation. We know that the first humans failed the test. Like monkeys and flies we are lured by the scent of the sweet. It whispers to us, “It’s ok, don’t worry!” “Try it just once. It’s not that bad anyway.” “Come on, everybody is doing it.” “Nobody will know.”
Temptation is tasty because it is always sugar-coated with a promise of pleasure. But we must be careful and vigilant to check where it is leading us, lest we suffer what happened to the bird in our story. Amen.