Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7… 3:7 Romans 5:12, 17-19 Matthew 3:13, 16-17; 4:1-11
This morning we have in the Genesis and Matthew readings very familiar and similar stories of how different persons respond to temptation.
Both stories begin with a direct encounter with God. In Genesis, God personally bestows life on Adam and Eve, and then endows them with all the gifts of creation. In Matthew, God’s Spirit appears to Jesus, declaring him God’s beloved, and showering him with loving praise. Each story moves from these scenes of gift to scenes of testing, in which the gifted ones encounter the Devil. Adam and Eve yield to the Devil’s temptation, and thus shame, blame and guilt enter God’s pristine creation. Jesus does not yield, not to the first temptation, nor the second nor the third.
What is the difference between Adam and Jesus; what leads the one to give in to the Devil while the other is able to resist?
Most of us learned the answer long ago, in grade school or Sunday school: Jesus is God, so, of course, he is going to win any contest with the Devil — it is an effortless slam dunk. A slightly more sophisticated answer, perhaps learned in high school, went like this: God sent Jesus, God’s divine Son, to become the second Adam and reverse Adam’s sin by conquering the Devil. That’s basically the same Jesus-is-God reasoning.
As I have matured through the seasons of adulthood and am able to draw on the Vatican Council teachings, my Loretto experience and my own life of prayer, it is not Jesus’ divinity but his thoroughly human nature that captures my attention, for in his humanness, Jesus is most like me. I look to Jesus’ human experience and his human response to show me the way. So, for me the question is, what about Jesus’ humanness enabled him to resist temptation?
Going back to the two stories, we note again that each begins with a direct encounter with God’s loving presence and God’s gift-giving. It seems amazing that Adam and Eve could have lost sight of such a wonder-filled encounter. Yet, I only have to consider my own experience to understand how they could have forgotten God’s graciousness. Like them, I seem incapable of holding onto my experiences of God’s goodness. It takes no time at all for my grace-filled attention to be diverted by some small desire, some petty irritation, some minor interest.
By contrast, Jesus did not lose sight of God’s goodness. His center never shifted as he met each of the Devil’s temptations. How did he do that? As a person like me, entirely human, how did he do that? I’m just guessing, but perhaps Jesus’ time in the desert is the key to his centeredness. Jesus went into the desert and fed for 40 days on the memory and the reality of being the Beloved of God. God’s loving presence was still vividly in Jesus’ mind as he faced the Devil.
We have been told by the Scriptures time and again that in Jesus we have all been adopted as children of God. And now we are at the beginning of another 40 days. Let us use this time to feast on the memory and the reality that we are chosen, we are God’s Beloved, touched time and again with loving kindness. Then with this memory and this reality to center us, we can dare to hope for the grace to be faithful, as Jesus was faithful, to the One who loves us.