1st Sunday of Lent
By Msgr. Owen Campion
The Book of Deuteronomy provides the first reading for this first Sunday of Lent. Deuteronomy looks to the days when the Hebrews were reeling from Egyptian slavery and making their uncertain way across the treacherous Sinai Peninsula, yet Deuteronomy is not a story of doom and gloom.
It is hopeful. All will be well for God’s people if they simply love God and follow the commandments. God already had proven to be merciful and protective. He would not change.
The decision to obey God, therefore, and truly to be God’s faithful people rested solely with the people themselves.
For its second reading this weekend, the Church provides us with a reading from Paul’s powerful Epistle to the Romans. The Apostle wrote this epistle, or letter, to the Christians living in Rome, the imperial capital and the center of the Mediterranean world in the first century.
As was the case with the other communities to which Paul sent letters, the Christian community of Rome was living in a culture that utterly was at odds with the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. Surely many of the Christian Romans had doubts. Paul urged these people to be strong by uniting themselves to God through faith in Jesus. Paul expressly mentioned the Resurrection, the miracle by which Jesus, crucified and dead, rose again to life.
This reference would have had an impact. Crucifixion indeed was a fate that might have awaited them. Surely many were afraid, since, after all, the popular mood and indeed the political order were against Christians. The penalty for being a Christian was death.
Finally, Paul insisted, God’s mercy and life, given in Christ, are available to all, Greeks, or foreigners, as well as to Jews, who were part of the chosen people.
St. Luke’s Gospel gives us a scene also seen in Mark and Matthew, namely a story of the temptation of Christ by the devil. The identity of Jesus is made clear. The Gospel says that Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit.” He is the Son of God. He also is human, because the devil used food to tempt Jesus. Fasting was a discipline for Jesus.
In the exchange, the devil, often depicted in myth as so very powerful, as indeed the devil is powerful, here comes across as indecisive and struggling. The devil cannot grasp the full meaning of Christ’s identity. The devil foolishly seeks to tempt Jesus not to be faithful to God but rather to worship Satan.
Jesus, by contrast, is serene and strong. He is in control.
Nevertheless, although defeated for the moment, the devil does not relent but only lies in wait for another opportunity.
On Ash Wednesday, the Church invited us to use the season of Lent as a means to our great holiness.
Never deluding us by implying that the path to holiness is a walk along an imagined primrose path, the Church frankly tells us that holiness requires discipline, focus and unfailing faithfulness to God despite difficulties and the forces, very real in the world, that are absolutely at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.
In so many ways we are similar to the Hebrews as they fled from Egypt and slavery to the land of prosperity and peace God had promised them. We are in flight from the slavery and hopelessness of sin.
The first to hear this reading from Romans, and the reading from Luke, also were in flight from sin and death. They were weak. We are weak, because selfishness attracts us. They could not see everything. Neither can we.
God alone gives courage and insight. Lent gives us the opportunity to strengthen our own resolves to resist sin, to be with God, and in God to find our way.
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