First Sunday of Lent
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 paganism and the tendency of all humans to avoid accusing themselves of fault, it goes to the heart of sin.
The heart of sin is that it is the result of a freely chosen act by humans. While in this reading the role of the tempting devil is clear, it also is clear that the devil only tempts. The devil does not force the first man and woman to sin. They sinned of their own will.
The temptation in itself has a lesson. Rebelling against God, the perfect and the perfectly just, was foolhardy. Yet, imperfect even in their pristine state of holiness, 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. It reminds us that by the original sin the first humans introduced sin, and resulting chaos and trouble, into earthly existence.
Thus, death and hardship are not God’s designs for us. They were not curses sent upon the human race by an angry God. Believe it or not, the first humans chose them when they sinned. Sin, voluntary and deliberate, brought such devastatingly bad results into the world.
God is the center and source of everlasting love and mercy. He did not leave humanity in the whirlpool of death and despair created by human sin. Instead God 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 not unique to Matthew. Similar stories appear in Mark and Luke.
As was the case with Genesis, this reading is heavy in its symbolism. For example, bread in the time of Jesus much more obviously represented survival than bread would be today.
Modern refrigeration and quick transportation of food products have given us, in our day, a great selection as to what we will eat. In the time of Jesus the selection was considerably less. There was no refrigeration. Few foodstuffs could be transported at any distance without spoiling, but grain and flour could be stored. Bread was a principal food. So the devil tries to convince Jesus that the devil can give true life.
In another example, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple. Even the earth, created by God, can be contaminated by evil.
The final and most powerful message is that Jesus can command even the devil. Jesus is God.
This weekend is the first weekend of Lent. The church uses the opportunity of this weekend to teach us one of the most basic facts of spiritual life. Sin removes us from God. Sin is not thrust upon us. We are not captured by sin against our will. We choose to sin.
Perhaps, ultimately, the deadliest effect of original sin was the human tendency to minimize the danger of sin and to deny personal responsibility.
In these readings, the church calls us to awake and then turn away from sin. It reminds us of our own personal role in sin. It pleads with us not to underestimate temptation. It reassures us that, although temptations may be strong, Jesus is our Redeemer and our strength. His strength is enough to overcome any temptation. But we must fortify ourselves by asking for the Lord’s strength. This is the purpose of Lent.
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