Cycle (A) 1st Sunday of Lent

Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Rom 12:5-19; Mt 4:1-11

Today we begin the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Lent is a season of penance that has been set apart by the Catholic Church in memory of the forty days fast of Our Lord Jesus in the desert. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent includes forty fasting days. The Lenten Season is a time to fast for the purpose of gaining spiritual strength in order

to resist all forms of temptations.  So the church proposes that we should do penance to regain spiritual strength.

Once upon a time a very earnest young man visited a famous rabbi. He told the rabbi that he wanted to become a rabbi and asked for his advice. It was winter time. The rabbi stood at the window looking out into the yard while the rabbinical candidate gave him a glowing account of his piety and learning. The young man said, ‘You see, Rabbi, I always dress in spotless white like the sages of old. I never drink any alcoholic beverages; only water ever passes my lips. I perform numerous penances. For instance, I always carry sharp-edged nails inside my shoes to mortify me. Even in the coldest weather. I lie naked in the snow to punish my flesh. And to complete my penance, I take a dozen lashes every day on my bare back.’ As the young man spoke, a stable boy led a white horse into the yard and took him to the water trough. The horse drank his fill of water, and having done so, rolled in the snow, as horses sometimes do. ‘Just look!’ cried the rabbi. “That animal, too, is dressed in white. It also drinks nothing but water, has nails in its shoes and rolls naked in the snow. Also, rest assured, it gets its daily ration of lashes on the rump from its master. Now, I ask you, is it a saint, or is it a horse?” The point the rabbi was making was that penance is not an end in itself. (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’)Our penance should be a means to obtaining grace to resist all temptations in life.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Genesis [Gen. 2:7-9, 16-18, 25; 3:1-7] recalls the creation of our first parents and the entry of original sin into the world. Adam and Eve enjoyed an innocent nature. But when Eve was tempted to disobey the command of God, it could not be resisted. She just gave in, and Adam followed. It is human nature to choose the easiest path. The path that offers no resistance. The path that has no hurdles. The path that does not place any demand of sacrifice on us.

Anyone who has ever paddled downriver in a canoe knows that a river does not travel in a straight line.  Rather, it twists and meanders wildly, whipping blindly around bends, constantly pushing the craft back and forth from sand bar to overhung branch to brambly shore. The river follows the path of least resistance and following the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked. The same is applicable to us too.

Once upon a time there were three shepherds who each was responsible for a flock of sheep. One winter’s night all three were awakened by the howling of a wolf. The first was about to get out of bed when he heard the rain beating against his bedroom window. He had second thoughts, turned over in bed, and went back to sleep. The second got out of bed, dressed, and went to the front door. However, on opening it he was hit by a squall of sleety rain. He went back inside and returned to his warm bed. The third got up, dressed, and went outside. There he had to contend with rain, wind, darkness and cold. But he stuck to his task until he had seen that his sheep were secure. When he got back indoors he was wet through and got a nasty cold as a result of his efforts. Now which of the three shepherds knew most about the rain, the wind and the dark? The third of course. Those who give in easily to temptation know little about the struggle involved. Those who struggle with temptation and overcome it know it best. If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, don’t ask a sinner ask a saint. (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies)

Today’s Gospel gives an account of the temptations Jesus endured. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus was put severe temptations. 

In the first temptation, the tempter said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." [Mt. 4:3] To this, Jesus answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" [Mt. 4:4].
It is a temptation the modern world faces much more than that of any age. The greed for material possession. The insatiable greed for luxury. When the world around us suffers, we run after the latest fashions.  The world is constantly hit by natural disasters. (Tsunami in Japan). Countless number of people loses their shelter, clothing and means of livelihood. They are reduced to nothing. In such a world to run after satisfying our greed for luxury is a great sin, and easily giving into temptation.  The season of lent reminds us to open our eyes and see the world around us; to act promptly and not to wait.

In the second temptation, "the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed Him on the pinnacle of the Temple." {Mt. 4:5] Then Satan said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" [Ps. 91:11-2; Mt. 4:6] To this, Jesus replied, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" [Mt. 4:7].

The temple of Jerusalem was very high and there were always plenty of people gathered in the courtyards of the temple.  If the people see a person coming down from the top of the temple without getting hurt, He would become popular hero. Winning popularity always remains an unconquerable temptation. We are ready to do anything to become popular – live with serpents, walk through fire, laid buried under the earth for hours and so on. If we have an examination ourselves, we can recount countless occasions, when we acted differently to gain popularity, even at the cost of others. Jesus’ answer is a warning to us too.

In the final temptation, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the Kingdoms of the world and their splendour. [Mt. 4:8] There, Satan said, "All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me." [Mt. 4:9] Quoting Deuteronomy 6:3, Jesus answered with severity, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'" [Mt. 4:10].
Thirst for power is deeply embedded in each one of us. All the wars in our history were just to satisfy the thirst of some one.  We practice it in the little spheres of our influence; at home, in the work place, in the parish and so on.

The message of lent for us is to fight against three basic evil natures in us:  temptation to amass material possession, temptation to gain popularity through unfair means, temptation to get power at the cost of others. If we are able to resist them in little measures we will be able to contribute to the alleviation of suffering and injustice that prevail today.