Lent Keeps Us on the Right Path
User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, March 13, 2011 (Year A, Cycle I) is the First Sunday of Lent.
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17; Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11.
Today’s first reading and Gospel tell the story of two different temptations: Adam and Eve’s on the one hand and Christ’s on the other.
The settings couldn’t be more different — a desert and a garden — but it is striking how many fundamental features the two have in common with each other and with what we face today.
Tempting the Appetites. The devil’s first instinct in both cases is to tempt with food. For Adam and Eve, it is a forbidden fruit when they have plenty; for Jesus, it is simple loaves of bread when he is extremely hungry. In both cases, the devil hopes that his victims will choose with their stomachs instead of their brains.
Eve’s fatal act is that she follows her eyes and decides to reject what the Father has told her; Christ’s saving act is to cling to the words of the Father despite his hunger. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,” he says. Later in the Gospel he will say, “My food is to do the will of my Father.”
Our temptations often come through our appetites. We don’t reject our morning prayer so much as we decide to sleep. We don’t decide to waste time so much as we decide to feed our curiosity by watching TV, surfing the Internet or chatting. Our first steps into sin are often more capitulation to a weakness rather than a decision to embrace a sin.
That’s why fasting in Lent is so important. It trains us in mastery over our appetites so that we can stay off that dark pathway.
Testing God. The second movement of the temptation of Eve is her decision to test God.
God has created her and created a paradise for her to live in and tend. He is not just a benevolent benefactor; he has made mankind his partner in the garden.
Nonetheless, Eve is quick to question God’s benevolence. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” asks Satan. He is trying to make God look bad. Eve should have said: “Certainly not. We can eat from all of them but one.”
Instead, she mimicks the attitude he has modeled for her, claiming that God said of that tree, “You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.” God said no such thing. But Eve has agreed with the devil, placed herself at a distance from God, and has begun to test him to see how his rules fit her terms, rather than the other way around.
The devil does much the same thing with Christ when he invites him to throw himself down and rely on God to save him. But Jesus knows that God’s saving power comes on God’s terms, not his.
We also find ourselves testing God when we are tempted. We play games with God, dancing on a legalistic line and daring him to call our foul. As soon as we do that, we are no longer dealing with God as a friend; we have made him our opponent.
The remedy is to grow closer to him, to shore up our friendship. This is what the Church asks us to do in Lent through prayer: Spend time with God. Get to know him. Internalize his will.
Wanting It All. In the last temptation, Satan tells Eve that she will gain the world if she eats the fruit. In her case, he means she will possess spiritual goods: “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”
In fact, what happened when she and Adam ate the fruit was that she severed her relationship with the Creator of the world and began a relationship of slavery to sin.
Says the Catechism, the first couple was hit with the “triple concupiscence,” the condition that “subjugates [man] to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.”
Suddenly, Adam and Eve suffered what we do: a constant desire to have it all. We want pleasure ... all the time. We want more possessions. We want more power.
Satan comes directly at Christ with the same temptation, offering him all the kingdoms of the world, but now much more willing to admit that this will mean bowing down to Satan in worship. Jesus shoos him away.
The same cycle repeats itself in our lives. We want it all, and go for it — only to find that we are in a position of subjugation that we hate.
The Lenten answer to this is almsgiving, when we turn over our goods to others for the sake of God. And become more free as a result.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.