Lectionary Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 16-18,2-5; 3:1-7 / Ps 51 / Rom 5:12-19 / Mt 4:1-11
The Church inaugurated the Season of Lent with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, which included the iconic ritual of the Imposition of Ashes, in which all members of the Church all over the world, from our Holy Father, Pope Francis to the youngest of children in the pew, took part in. Today’s readings in a sense echoes either verse the minister would say when distributing the ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) and “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15).
It is evident that today’s readings speaks about the T-word of temptation. This theme is always evident in the Lectionary readings provided for the First Sunday of Lent in all three Sunday Lectionary cycles in some capacity or another. Rather than focusing on the Gospel alone, I want to take a look a all three readings and how they are threaded together.
The excerpt of Genesis that we have for this week speaks of the Fall of Man. At the beginning of the reading, we are reminded that God made man, “from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen 2:7) Man was able to enjoy everything in the Garden of Eden, except for, God reminded, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Unfortunately, the serpent comes and tempts Eve, saying, “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:5) and eventually, as we all know, both of them ate of the fruit.
As a result, we go to Paul’s epistle, in which he says, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, so death spread to all people, because all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12)
Some may say that Catholics are concerned about talking snakes and men and women eating apples – however, that is not necessarily so. The story of the Fall of Man speaks of the reality of who we are – our very nature. It speaks to humans’ tendency to lean towards choices that are not always the best, given free will. While there is a moral compass, there are objective moral standards, we often fall astray from that moral compass, thus being constantly tempted into ways of sin. The consequence of sin is ultimately death.
However, God did not leave man to fall into a state of darkness and despair.
O happy faultExsultet: The Proclamation of Easter
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
In approximately six weeks, we will once again be reminded of what resulted from the Fall of Man in the Exsultet. Right after the segment Genesis used today, God promises a Saviour (cf. Gen 3:14–15) and that Saviour is Jesus Christ, the one whom, as we follow the Lectionary Readings of Advent, have been longed for from generation to generation. The Fall of Man was not the end – through the death and resurrection of Jesus, it became “happy fault.”
In today’s Gospel, we see the image of the “New Adam” (cf. Rom 5:12-18) who like our ancestors, is again tempted by the devil. However, in the person of Jesus, the “New Adam”, even when presented with satisfactions, might and riches, he rejected all of that because all of those things are earthly things that will eventually pass away, but instead, Jesus kept his mind focused on things of heaven. That is what fasting does – when we intentionally give up something or lessen something, we tend to focus more the aspect of prayer, and those less fortunate than us, we focus less about our bodies, but about our spiritual well being, the concerns of others and therefore, able to better resist temptations.
What do we make of all of this from this week’s readings? We know that we are made from dust and “to dust we will return” as a result of sin. However, despite our very nature, God never abandoned us. In Pope Francis’ words,
…we are dust loved by God. It pleased the Lord to gather that dust in his hands and to breathe into it the breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). We are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory.Homily of Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday 2020
Thus, knowing that, let us look up to the model of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Despite our frailty and the road to perfection to resist temptation will be difficult, well why not let us at least make an effort this Lent? Let’s put meaning into our fasting, prayer and almsgiving this Lent and therefore, make for us a suit of armour to shield ourselves from the many temptations we will face not just this Lent, but throughout our earthly lives.