As we begin another season of Lent, our readings speak powerfully about temptation. But, I’d like to first call your attention to the beginning of today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis where we hear a beautiful story of our creation. Using three very touching images, we hear about God forming us out of the clay of the ground, breathing life into us and placing us into his lush, fruitful garden. It’s a very endearing account. We are invited to see God, the almighty creator of the universe, bend down to pick up a handful of clay and mold it into the first human being. And then, he holds it up to his mouth and breathes his life into it. We have this moment presented very graphically in our stained glass window – it’s on the bottom of the third-to-the-last panel on your right. You’ll see a man crouched as if he is trying to catch his breath while the Spirit of God hovers over him; and he’s mud brown. Without God, we simply would not exist, we wouldn’t have life and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all that surrounds us. But, it is God’s garden and we are placed here to tend it for him.
Yet from the very beginning, it has been hard for us as human beings to remember this basic reality. Like Adam and Eve, it is very easy for us to be tempted to be like God – wanting to be in charge of our lives and wanting to know good from evil. We go through our lives reacting to our problems and challenges as if we’re in charge of everything, and forget to rely on the wisdom and guidance of God. However, as we begin our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are invited to turn our focus to remember to put God first in our lives, and to wrest out of our lives anything we tend to put before God.
Our reading from the Gospel of Matthew gives us a masterfully composed example of how to do just that as it contrasts Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in the desert to the struggle ancient Israelites had as they wandered through the desert years earlier. Remember Moses’ instruction to the people of Israel as they completed their 40 years journey through the desert. Moses was reminding the people that God had led them into the desert not only to free them from slavery in Egypt but also to test them, to see if they would remain faithful to him, their God. You will recall that they had often complained against Moses and against God but God had always taken care of them, providing them manna and quail when they were hungry and water from a rock when they were thirsty. It was the word of God that cared for them in their journey. Yet, they continued to complain against God and even turned to worship false gods.
In contrast, we hear today of Jesus being tempted by the devil and steadfastly countering the devil’s offers with clear reminders that God comes first. Tempted to make stones into bread after 40 days of fasting, Jesus notes that we live not only on bread, but on the word of God. Next, when the devil tempted Jesus to fall down and let God save him, Jesus reminds the devil that we are not to put God to the test. Finally, tempted with all the riches of the world if he only worships Satan, Jesus counters that God alone is to be worshiped. Jesus gives us a perfect model: in all temptations, we are to remember that God, our Creator, comes first and he’s in charge and he will take care of all our needs if only we put our trust in him.
As we, once again, begin our challenging journey of Lent, let us be assured by the words of Paul in today’s second reading. Although sin abounds in our world through the sin of Adam and Eve, God’s grace abounds even more. As we strive in the weeks ahead to put God first, to remove from our lives the obstacles to our union with God, God gives us grace to help us in our struggle. We are never alone on the journey when we strive to come closer to God – God is always waiting to give us any help we need, if only we remember to turn to him. Let us face the Lent ahead with the courage and humility of Jesus.
On this First Sunday of Lent, our Gospel challenges us to follow Jesus, and not fall to the temptations that the devil and the world offer. Among the central themes of this season is the recognition that we all have to do battle against temptations. That’s the result of free will and the way we decide to work for the building of God’s kingdom – not the kingdom of the devil – in our midst.
To assist us in this conversion process, the Church calls us to remember and to practice the message found in today’s sacred Scripture readings: Go into your own wilderness for forty days. Pray, fast, become more humble and contrite, increase your service to others – all of this testing to know what is in your heart, and to remind us all, once again: “The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” As we do that, we prepare ourselves for the time when our risen Lord – who continually turned to God in his times of temptation – will return to lead us back into God’s eternal garden – heaven.