Sunday, March 1, is the First Sunday of Lent (Year A). Mass readings: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.
Of the many themes in the creation story of Genesis 2-3 that might be fruitfully examined, one that is especially appropriate to meditate upon on this First Sunday of Lent, is the role that temptation played in Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience.
God emphatically commanded our first parents not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, explaining that if they were to eat it, they would surely die (Genesis 2:17).
Initially, the message was received loud and clear, and things went along just fine for Adam and Eve.
Yet, as soon as the serpent appeared, and with him temptation, the serenity and good order of creation were endangered.
The questions that the serpent posed to Eve led her not only to contemplate disobeying God’s one commandment but also to doubt the goodness and trustworthiness of God, her creator.
With these doubts swirling in her head, she fell back on her own judgment: She “saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). In the end, she trusts in the serpent and herself, but not in God.
Adam, for his part, is right there with her. He exhibits none of Eve’s reflection, however, and instead appears to give in to temptation instantaneously upon her suggestion, which perhaps suggests that he joined in this sin for a baser reason: He was hungry.
Now, it is perhaps tempting to blame this first sin solely on the serpent — after all, had he not tempted Eve with those questions, perhaps Eve would never have made that ill-fated decision.
Yet, it is also noteworthy that Eve and Adam were so near to the Tree of Knowledge in the first place.
Imagine for a moment that you were in the Garden in this story and that God had explained to you that the fruit of this tree was the one thing that could kill you and separate you from him. How would you act on that knowledge?
One reasonable response might be that you would keep as far away from this tree as possible. Perhaps you might even build a warning fence and create a buffer zone. Yet Adam and Eve did nothing of the sort. Instead, when the serpent made his appearance, they were right beside the tree. In fact, Eve was close enough to evaluate the serpent’s claim about the fruit of the tree by inspecting it with her own eyes. It appears, then, that the temptation of the serpent was preceded by grave imprudence on the part of Adam and Eve.
The creation story of Genesis 2-3 thus provides us with an important lesson regarding the moral life: Overcoming temptation is oftentimes a matter of prudence. The virtue of prudence, which is sometimes called the charioteer of the virtues, is the virtue by which we are able to put our experience and sound judgment into practice to do good and avoid evil.
Thus, if one wants to avoid the moral failure of grave sin or of not observing one’s Lenten penances, prudence is necessary.
Thankfully, we can grow in prudence simply by asking for it from God in prayer. Yet we are also responsible for cooperating with God’s grace by seeking ways to grow in prudence ourselves — a project that can be as simple as using our intellect to think about the likely sources of temptation in our lives so as to avoid them, which is the very thing we pledge to do every time we pray the Act of Contrition after confessing our sins. When we make it a point of cooperating with God’s grace in this way, we open ourselves to a more fruitful observance of the Lenten season.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor in sacred Scripture
at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.