1st Sunday of Lent (A); March 5, 2017
Gn 2:7-9, 3:1-7 Ps 51 Rom 5:12-19 Mt 4:1-11
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
Each year, the first reading and the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent set before us the narrative of how to respond to temptation. What we see at the beginning of Creation (the story of the Fall) and re-creation (Jesus encountering Satan in the desert before he begins his public ministry) shows us that in the weakness of temptation, we must avoid dialoging with the devil. Yes, we’re all going to fall, just like Adam and Eve did, but we must have the courage of recognizing what we have done, pray to our merciful God and ask forgiveness in order to pick ourselves up and move on being empowered by his grace. What we must not do is to hang around with Satan, dabble in his seductions, and play his games which are designed to destroy us.
Isn’t it interesting that at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of re-creation, temptation was the first event. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve had it made. They were in an earthly Paradise in which they were in right relationship with God, themselves, and Creation. And, they had a task to do: to safeguard and protect Creation on God’s behalf with love. In the same way, “in the beginning,” they were tempted.
The same thing happened to Jesus. Our Lord leaves his hometown of Nazareth, gets baptized by John in the Jordan River, and goes into the desert to pray so as to begin his public ministry which will bring about the salvation of the world. At that moment of vulnerability, the same tempter seeks to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan of total sacrificial giving by offering him an easier path of having the goods of the world: a path of wealth, success, and power.
We heard from the Genesis reading that in the temptation of Adam and Eve that “the serpent was the most subtle” (Gn 3:1) of creatures: he shows himself in the form of a seductive serpent and shrewdly seeks to deceive by playing upon our weaknesses. But, we shouldn’t listen to him because he is the “father of lies” as Jesus calls him. Notice how he engaged Eve in conversation. He makes her listen to him carefully. What he offers sounds good: if you eat the forbidden fruit, you’ll become “like gods who know” (v. 5). What could possibly go wrong with that? Such a promise makes Eve feel good; she trusts in the devil, who assures her that she will not die if she eats from the Tree of Knowledge. In so doing, he’s virtually calling God a liar. Step by step, he leads her to where he wants.
The devil tries to the same with Jesus in the desert. He makes three offers, but unlike the Genesis account the dialogue with Jesus ends badly for the devil. “Be gone, Satan!” (Mt 4:10a). However, the dialogue with Eve does not end well for her: Satan wins. Why? Eve listen to the devil. She entertained his seductions. She placed her toe in the syrupy pool of his illusion.
Brothers, notice how the devil operates. He does not take us by storm, forcing us to act against our will. No, when the devil fools a person, it starts with a dialogue. He engages us and what he says is tantalizing: it really sounds good. That is precisely what he tries to do with Jesus. “Hey, you’ve been out her in the desert fasting for 40 days. You’re hungry. If you’re the Son of God, use your power to turn this stone to bread! You’ve come to save the world, but here is a shortcut that can save you a lot of toil and hard work. Go to the top of the temple, show yourself to the crowds and throw yourself down without a parachute. Amazing! The people will go crazy and they will believe in you. And, it will be all over in a half-an hour.
But, Jesus does not play Satan’s game. In the end, the devil shows his true face. “Come with me.” He shows Jesus the whole world and says you can have all of this “if you prostrate yourself and worship me” (v. 9). That’s the devil’s end game for Jesus: he wants the Son of God to commit idolatry. Jesus’ response cuts to the heart of the matter: “Get away, Satan! It is written: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (v. 10).
Notice how Jesus deals with temptation. He does not dialogue with the devil, he doesn’t play around with him by testing the waters. Rather, he hears what the Prince of Darkness has to say and gives a response, which is not ostensibly his: Jesus takes the response from the Word of God. Jesus three responses are all taken from the Old Testament. That was his weapon and should be ours as well.
The contrast with Eve is dramatic. She was very naïve. In the beginning what the serpent had to offer was tantalizing; it was attractive and “seemed good.” She thought that if she ate the Forbidden Fruit that she would be transformed into something better: she would become a god, which is the sin of idolatry. So, she continues to dialogue with the devil, even when he insults God and implies that He does not have her best interests at heart. So, she went ahead with the dialogue and gave in to the temptation. Genesis tells us that it did not end well. She and her husband are now naked and they have nothing: they are not in right relationship with God, themselves, and Creation. They have lost everything.
That’s what it comes down to, brothers. Don’t play around with the devil: he is a bad payer: he does not deliver on his promises, which are false to the core. Satan promises us everything—“you’ll become like a god”—and leaves us naked.
We know that our spiritual journey into the mystery of God will be fraught with temptation. Let us remember this: at the moment of temptation, there is no arguing with Satan, there is no rationalizing that the temptation is not “all that bad.” Our defense must always be the Word of God! And, if we take refuge in the Word, the temptation will dissipate and soon leave us for the time being. The Word will save us!
Jesus did not dialogue with Satan; instead, he stuck with his plan. Jesus is absolutely committed to his Father’s plan of love, which energizes his public ministry and will lead him three years later to the final reckoning with the “prince of the world” (Jn 16:11), at the hour of his passion and Cross. And, Jesus will have the final victory, the victory of love—of being in right relationship with His Father and his brothers and sisters.
Brothers, the time of Lent is an opportune occasion for all of us to make a journey of conversion, by sincerely allowing ourselves to be confronted with this Gospel passage. Let us renew our Baptismal promises: let us renounce Satan and all his works and seductions—for he is a seducer who does not have our good at heart—in order to follow the path of God and arrive at Easter in the joy of the Spirit. Amen.