Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel
February 29, 2020 // The Sunday Gospel

Jesus gives us the strength to overcome temptation

Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel

First Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4:1-11

The first reading for this first weekend of Lent is from the Book of Genesis.

Few passages in the Scriptures are as abundant in literary technique and in theological message as is this reading from Genesis. Bluntly confronting the idea of abandoning God and the tendency of all humans to avoid accusing themselves of fault, it goes to the heart of sin.

Essentially, sin is the result of a freely chosen act by humans. While in this reading from Genesis the role of the tempting devil is clear, it also is obvious that the devil only tempts but never forces anyone to sin. Adam and Eve sinned of their own will. All humans sin by their own choice.

Temptation is powerful, nonetheless. Rebelling against God was hardly the best thing to do, yet, imperfect even in their pristine state of goodness, the first man and woman listened to bad advice and trusted not God but another. It is a process that has been repeated untold number of times in the lives of us all.

The second reading is from the Epistle to the Romans. In this reading, the epistle looks back to the incident described in Genesis, recalling that by the original sin the first humans introduced sin, and the resulting chaos and trouble, into earthly existence.

Death and hardship are not God’s designs for us. God did not create us to suffer in misery and bewilderment, only then to die. Misfortunates are not curses sent upon humans by an angry God. Look at this reading. The first humans chose bad consequences when they sinned. Sin, voluntary and deliberate, always brings devastatingly bad results.

God is the center and source of everlasting love and mercy. Unwilling, and indeed unable to leave humanity in the whirlpool of death and despair created by human sin, because God is love, He sent Jesus, the Redeemer, the Son of God.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. It recalls the temptation of Jesus. It is a Synoptic tradition. Similar stories appear in Mark and Luke.

As was the case with Genesis, this reading is heavy in its symbolism. Having fasted, Jesus was hungry. Bread, in the time of Jesus, much more obviously represented survival than it would today.

Modern refrigeration and quick transportation of food products have given us in our day a great selection in food. In the time of Jesus, the selection was considerably less. Without refrigeration, and also because of slow transport, few foodstuffs could be moved across any distance without spoiling.

Grain and flour could be stored, so bread was a principal food. The devil used the Lord’s natural hunger to draw Jesus into a trap.

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple, tempting the Lord, in effect, to renounce God.

The ultimate message is that Satan deceives and tries to exploit human weaknesses. Jesus knows and voices truth, commanding even the devil.


In this first weekend in Lent, the Church teaches these basic facts of spiritual life; namely, that sin removes us from God, and that sin is not thrust upon us. We are not captured by sin against our will. We choose to sin.

Another important lesson follows. Perhaps, ultimately, the deadliest effect of original sin is the human tendency to minimize the danger of sin and to deny human adequacy when tempted.

In these readings, the Church calls us away from sin — and to face facts directly. It reminds us of our own personal role in sin. It pleads with us to resist temptation, reassuring us that, although temptations may appeal to our wants or perceived needs, Jesus will give us the strength to overcome any temptation.

We must renounce sin and ask for the Lord’s strength. Lent calls us to this request.


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