Sunday, March 9, is the First Sunday in Lent (Year A, Cycle II).
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-14, 17; Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Pope Francis never tires of warning us about the devil’s activity in the world today.
“Some may say, ‘But, Father, you're too old-fashioned. You're frightening us with these things,’” the Pope has said, defending his willingness to talk about the devil. “No, it’s not me! It is the Gospel! And these are not lies: It is the word of the Lord.”
So when today’s readings tell us about two different encounters with the devil and his temptations, it is good to take notice. The lessons learned can be applied throughout Lent and beyond.
On the one hand, we have the devil’s encounter with Jesus; on the other hand, we have his encounter with Adam and Eve. What can we learn from the two experiences?
First, Jesus’ temptation came after fasting; Adam and Eve’s comes after enjoying abundance.
Adam and Eve, before the fall, had every right to enjoy the abundance of the Garden of Eden. But today’s first reading, from Genesis, hints at one problem in their enjoyment.
When Genesis describes the good fruits of the garden, we learn they “were delightful to look at and good for food.”
When Genesis describes how Eve fell for the bad fruit, we learn that she saw it “was good for food, pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom.”
Thus, Scripture gives the sense that Eve was focused too much on the externals and not on the deeper significance of all the fruits in the garden.
Think of it like gifts under a Christmas tree: Most of us look at our own gifts and others' gifts very differently. We are grateful for ours and consider other people’s simply off-limits. We don’t focus on the pretty wrapping and desire both.
Eve, essentially, saw someone else’s gift and had the same reaction to it that she had to her own. That’s a problem.
Jesus shows us how to avoid the problem: by becoming detached from the things of this world. Human beings may naturally start to see the goods around us as things we are entitled to. Our Lenten fast should remind us that they are God’s gifts, and not all of them are meant for us.
Second, Jesus quoted Scripture accurately; Adam and Eve (and Satan) did not.
When Satan tempts him, Jesus knows just where to turn: to the word of God. He sternly and truly quotes Scripture to Satan in order to demonstrate the impossibility of what he is asking. The finality of his statement is hard to beat: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship; and him alone shall you serve.”
Eve’s grasp of Scripture is not so true.
God had told her, earlier in Genesis, Chapter 2: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it, you shall die.”
Eve reports his words this way: “God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
God never said that touching the fruit would make her die. She has reinterpreted God to make him sound unreasonable. This is a first step toward rejecting God.
Jesus teaches us the Lenten way: Review God’s actual words and live by them.
Third, Jesus sent Satan away; Adam and Eve engaged him.
Last, Jesus had the right attitude toward Satan and temptation: He wanted nothing to do with them. Temptations are inevitable in human life, even for Jesus, but his reaction was unequivocal: “Get away, Satan!” he said; then, immediately, angels come to minister to him.
Adam and Eve have a more … complicated response. They consider the devil’s lies as being on par with God’s truths. God said the food would kill — Satan said it would give wisdom. Eve sees the fruit on Satan’s terms, eats it changes the course of her life. Instead of angels ministering to them, they get angels that kick them out of paradise.
Our Lenten practices should lead us to a Christlike response to the devil: a simple “Go away!” that rejects temptations and refuses to entertain the rationalizations that invite them.
Tom and April Hoopes write from
Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is
writer in residence at Benedictine College.