Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. You’ve been wandering in the desert for 40 days and nights. You’re starving! You’re tired! You’re exhausted! Then suddenly, as you’re feeling all of those things, when you might be at the most vulnerable state, the Devil comes and throws these three temptations at you: to fulfill your hunger, to use God’s promise of protection in a self-serving manner, and to seize power and wealth. What would you do? How would you respond?
If we are completely honest with ourselves, we might just be surprised at how we react in these situations. While we might think we would be able to resist these temptations, I would bet that many of us – myself included – would fall rather quickly, giving into the enticements of the Devil. But why does this happen? Why is it so hard for us to sometimes resist the temptations of the Evil One? The answer goes back to the Story of Creation: because of the sin of our first parents, all of humanity has forgotten our true identity as sons and daughters of God.
In today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear that account of the initial act of disobedience that was perpetrated by our first parents against God. We know that the Father originally created us to live in harmony with Him. God created Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden with Him for all eternity. It was the perfect paradise. There was no illness, there was no famine, there was no suffering. But we know what happened.
The serpent appears to Eve and tricks her into thinking that the Father is deceitful and that He doesn’t want Adam and Eve to have the fullness of humanity. When the serpent gets our first parents to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he says to them: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” And sadly, Eve falls prey to the serpent’s cunning tactics. What results is a complete rupture in the trusting relationship which existed between God and the first human beings. From that moment on, they believe that God no longer loves them. They buy into the lie that they are no longer beloved children of the Father. Their guilt and their shame force them into hiding from God and the course of human history is forever changed.
Despite the sin of Adam and Eve, is there a way we can fight against the human inclination toward sin and recover our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God? There is a way, but we cannot win that battle on our own. In fact, often times, when we try to fight the various temptations that plague us through our own efforts, we can achieve the opposite effect and plunge deeper into sin.
Think about the sins that we struggle to overcome. Maybe it’s our struggle with pride, thinking that our way of doing things is the only way. Maybe it’s dealing with habitual sins like gluttony, pornography, acts of impurity, cursing, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. Maybe it’s our battle against lying, stealing, jealousy, envy, or sloth. Maybe it’s trying to overcome being uncharitable towards our loved ones, not listening to our parents, being disrespectful towards our siblings or classmates. Whatever it is that we are fighting against. We cannot overcome those things on our own! We must surrender those fights to the Lord, asking for His grace to overcome, depending on His mercy when the struggle becomes too burdensome. We must rely on the guidance and the strength of the Holy Spirit to help us fight against those sins on a daily basis.
In other words, we need relationship with God. When things become too challenging and we’re on the threshold of giving into those temptations, we must be willing to cry out our Savior: “Lord, help me…I can’t do this on my own.” But how is it possible for us to do that? It’s possible because God became a human being! God endured our struggles and experienced the very temptations that we face. Yet He persevered.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of the temptation of Christ comes immediately after the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. At the end of that baptismal scene, a voice comes down from heaven proclaiming Christ as the Beloved Son of God. Before entering the desert, Christ is aware of His identity and so He goes willingly to wander for 40 days and nights. The temptations of Satan then attempt to get Jesus to forget about this identity, that’s why he prefaces every temptation with the phrase: “If you are the Son of God…” Yet, Jesus remains faithful.
Despite being hungry, He refuses to pervert the power given to Him by the Father and does not turn stones into bread. Jesus is tempted to question God’s promise of protection; yet He remains steadfast in His relationship with the Father and refuses to put that love to the test. Satan promises great wealth and power if Jesus only repudiates His relationship with the Father, but He refuses to worship Satan. By failing to give into these temptations, Christ begins to restore our relationship with God. His obedience to the will of the Father shows humanity the freedom that comes with being a beloved child of God and adhering to God’s plan for our lives. Through His obedience, Adam and Eve’s disobedience was overcome. Jesus becomes the new Adam, He takes on the fight against sin for us and begins to break the chains of slavery that have held the human race in sin for so long. We are now called to cooperate with this work of God.
Throughout this season of Lent, it is our responsibility to continue to strive to deepen our understanding of the Father’s love for us by encountering Christ in the Scriptures. It is our task to reflect more deeply on those areas of our hearts where we constantly turn away from the Lord and to ask Him for His grace and mercy to transform those parts of our lives. It is our mission to allow the Lord to begin to recapture that true identity within us of being beloved sons and daughters of the Father.
May this journey help bring us to a renewed sense of hope that our sin does not define our worth in God’s eyes. Even if we continue to get things wrong, we have hope that God will never abandon us. We know that He is with us in our struggle because Jesus went through it Himself. We know that the Father is walking alongside us and He’s always willing to come to our aid if we only turn to Him when we need Him the most. This week, let’s do just that. When those temptations become too burdensome, instead of relying on ourselves to overcome the struggle, let’s turn to the Lord and ask for His help. If we do, we might just be surprised at how different this Lent turns out to be.
Painting: The Temptation of Christ by the Devil, 12th century, Fresco transferred to canvas, The Cloisters Collection and Gift of E.B. Martindale, 1961. Wikimedia Commons, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
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