First Sunday of Lent
The Book of Deuteronomy provides the first reading for this first Sunday of Lent. Deuteronomy recalls the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt, where they had been slaves. This trip, called the Exodus, was filled with risks and hardships. The Egyptians pursued them. The Sinai Peninsula, through which they passed, was unforgiving, harsh and sterile of the necessities of life.
Even so, Deuteronomy is not a story of doom and gloom. It is hopeful. Always ahead is the Promised Land. Always, God intervenes with mercy, provisions and guidance.
The people, however, did not always repay God with their faithfulness. They rebelled against God, and they doubted God. Nevertheless, God again and again came to their aid.
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 A.D.
These Christians of Rome, a group of converts from Judaism as well as former pagans, lived in a culture that was utterly at odds with the Gospel. The conflict was decidedly more pronounced since Rome literally was the center of everything. It became a dangerous city for Christians when politics and the law turned against them.
Paul urged the Romans to be strong by uniting themselves to God through faith in Jesus. Strong in his own faith, Paul told the Romans that if they trusted in the Lord, none would be put to shame. Paul expressly mentioned the resurrection, the miracle by which Jesus, crucified and dead, rose again to life.
Finally, Paul insisted, God’s mercy and life, given in Christ, are available to all: Greeks and foreigners, as well as to Jews, who were the Chosen People.
St. Luke’s Gospel gives us a scene also depicted in Mark and Matthew, namely a story of the temptation of Christ by the devil.
Here, the two figures, Jesus and the devil, stand in bold, dramatic contrast. The devil, so often depicted at least in myth and lore as so very powerful, as indeed the devil is, comes across as indecisive and struggling. For instance, the devil realizes the identity of Jesus, but he cannot fully grasp what it all means. So, Satan seeks to tempt Jesus to not be faithful to God, but rather to succumb to the lure of material things.
Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” is serenely in control. He is the Son of God. He also is human, however, so the devil used food to tempt Jesus. Jesus was fasting as a discipline.
Defeated for the moment, the devil did not relent but only waited for another opportunity to frustrate the Lord’s mission of redemption.
Several days ago, on Ash Wednesday, the Church invited us to use the season of Lent as a means to holiness. In so doing, it was not asking us to begin a walk along an imagined primrose path. Always frank and direct, the Church told us what holiness requires. Being holy means turning to God, entirely. We must avoid sin. We must recognize our human vulnerability in the face of temptation.
Evil happens because people sin. The devil is real. Sin is alluring. Falling for its seeming appeal is part of being human. We need the Lord’s perception and strength when temptation comes.
This reading from Mark reveals to us the fact that devil is no match for Jesus.
In Lent, the Church calls us to turn to Jesus. If we have strayed from God, as did the Hebrews in the Sinai, God welcomes our return and embraces us.
We, however, must return to God, without qualification, and repel sin the way the Lord put Satan in his place.
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