1st Sunday of Lent – Feb. 26, 2023

 

1st Sunday of Lent – Feb. 26, 2023

Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4: 1-11

 

Theme: We are Called to Overcome the Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the Eyes, and Pride of Life

Lent is the forty-day penitential time in which we Christians prepare ourselves to celebrate the Paschal Mystery: the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have started this journey last Wednesday (with the Ash Wednesday Mass). The ashes we received on our foreheads at that Mass symbolized our firm decision to work on our repentance by observing the three Lenten disciplines of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. This work of repentance must start not tomorrow but now because “we are dust and to dust, we shall return.”

The liturgy of this first Sunday of Lent invites us to meditate on the three sorts of temptations that the devil used on our first ancestors Adam and Eve (first reading), on Jesus (Gospel), and that he continues to use on each one of us today. They are the lust of the flesh called also bodily appetite, the lust of the eyes (the desire for power and possessions), and the pride of life (the desire for glory or worldly recognition). This threefold love of the world is known as the threefold concupiscence. All sins that people commit are regrouped into these three categories. Note that the reason why the devil tempted Eve and Adam, Jesus, and continues to tempt us today is that he wants the people to be condemned along with him as he is already condemned. He uses this threefold love of the world as a strategy to lead us to sin because he knows very well that sin breaks our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters. The scripture readings of this Mass tell us on one hand how our first ancestors (Adam and Eve) failed to the temptation of the devil. As consequence, sin entered the world and brought condemnation. (First reading). On the other hand, Matthew recounts that Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations. As a result, he brought us back to our original alliance with God. (Gospel).  Now, to maintain this salvation that Jesus brought us, the Church calls you and me to overcome the same temptations every day. The traditional Lenten disciplines of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are the keys to resisting all temptations.  

The devil started his series of temptations with the lust of the flesh. The Gospel tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and so he was hungry. (v. 2). We too feel hungry every day. Hunger in this context represents all the lust of the flesh. The devil pushed Jesus to use his divine power and transform the stone into bread to satisfy his hunger. Quoting the Scripture (Deuteronomy 8: 3), Jesus answered, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (V. 4). While the tempter wants Jesus to focus on his physical hunger that the bread can satisfy and maintain his physical life, Jesus refers to the spiritual hunger that only the Word of God can gratify and assure our spiritual lives. We are dealing here with physical hunger versus spiritual hunger, with body versus soul. Jesus teaches us that we do not live on physical food alone. The way our bodies feel hungry for food is the same way our souls feel hungry for spiritual food that is to be in a relationship with God through prayer, Bible reading, and so many other spiritual activities. We know how many times we satisfy our bodies with all sorts of food they request from us. We drive from store to store or restaurant to restaurant to find the varieties of food that our bodies want. But when it is about the types of spiritual foods that our souls ask of us (Mass, Bible reading, choir practice, serving in the Church in different ministries, and many other spiritual activities), we shut them off. “One does not live on bread alone”, Jesus says, “but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. We are called to feed our souls with spiritual food.

Let us keep in mind that the goal of the devil is to lead Jesus to the sin of disobedience to God which will break his relationship with his Father and so stop him from starting his mission of saving God’s people. The devil already used this strategy with our first ancestors, (Eve and Adam), and he succeeded as we heard in the story of our first reading. Eve and Adam were living in a perfect union with God. Satan who is already condemned wants the people on his side. He is not happy when he sees people in good relationships with God and with themselves. His mission is to break these relationships. This is what he did with Eve and Adam. Our first ancestors fell to this temptation of the lust of the flesh. The author of Genesis says, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, (…)” (v. 6a). They chose to satisfy their physical hunger over satisfying their spiritual hunger which was to obey God’s Word.

The Church, our Holy Mother, calls you and me to resist this temptation of the lust of the flesh that we face every day. This temptation comes in different ways based on each one’s situation and need. Note that because Jesus was hungry that the devil uses the strategy of bread. We are hungry for many things today. For instance, we are hungry for good jobs, money or possessions, and relationships with someone. We must be careful about how to obtain them. The devil can suggest to us all that we need, but in return, he makes us disconnect from God and from the community which is the Church. There are many people in our society today who fall into this temptation. They exchange their loyalty to God with the lust of the flesh. We must know that the lusts of the flesh that the devil provides do not last nor do they give us true happiness. We should rather rely on what God gives us even though it takes time. So, we are called to make wise decisions and choices that procure true happiness and strengthen our relationships with God.

To resist this first temptation of the lust of the flesh, the Church invites us to observe the Lenten Discipline of Fasting which enables us to avoid all sins of this category of the lust of the flesh. Note that when we fast, we prioritize our spiritual lives over our physical lives. Fasting reminds us that we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

After failing with the first temptation, the devil uses the second strategy, the pride of life, which includes the desire for power, glory, or worldly recognition. The devil took Jesus to the holy city, made him stand on the parapet of the Temple, and asked him to throw himself down as a spectacle to prove that he is the Son of God and that nothing can harm him as it is written in Psalm 91: 11-12. (Vv.5-6). This temptation is to perform a public show which leads to celebrity status. With this strategy, the devil already succeeded to separate Eve and Adam from their God as we heard in our first reading story. He deceived Eve that if they eat the fruit of the tree, their eyes will be opened, and they will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil. (V. 5). The narrator comments that the woman saw that the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. (V. 6). Note that the purpose of Eve and Adam for gaining wisdom is to make themselves equal to God based on the statement of the devil, “You will be like God or gods” (NRSVCE says God instead of gods). So, they fell into the temptation of the “pride of life” which here is represented by the desire for power and glory. You and I too are confronted with this temptation of “the pride of life” every day in different ways. It is important to remember the tricky strategy of the devil which consists of giving us what we desire in exchange for our disobedience to God. So, many people in our societies are falling into this second temptation by abandoning their Christian faith over choosing the “pride of life”. We, Christians, need to know that all “fake” power and glories that come from the devil do not last, nor do they give us true happiness, but they just intend to lower our spiritual lives and so little by little separate us from God. Let us imitate Jesus who won this temptation. In our Gospel, Jesus counters the devil’s offer with another passage from the book of Deuteronomy 6: 16, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (V. 7). Jesus demonstrates that his mission was that of humility so that God’s glory (not his glory) be known to the people. Our mission too as Jesus’ followers is not to seek our personal glory but is that we make the glory of God known everywhere we live through our humility. We are called to observe the Lenten discipline of Prayer to overcome this temptation. Praying to God means acknowledging that we are not gods and we do not intend to equal him. So, in prayer, we recognize that we are his creatures, and he is our God.

The third temptation concerns the lust of the eyes or avarice which is the desire for possessions. He took Jesus up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence (or riches). He promised to give all these to Jesus with one condition: Jesus must prostrate himself and worship him. He already used this tactic with Eve and Adam in our first reading. Our first ancestors had possessions in abundance. The devil put in their hearts the desire to have more. The author of Genesis tells us that after the woman listened to the false words of the devil, she saw that the tree pleased her eyes. (Genesis 3: 6). The same devil continues to tempt us today using the lust of the eyes in different ways. Again, note that he offers us “fake” possessions with the unique goal to separate us from God and from our brothers and sisters. Many people are falling into this third temptation. They chose possessions over their relations with God and with their fellow humans. We experience divisions in families, conflicts in our societies, and civil wars in many countries around the world because of the desire for possessions. The lust of the eyes is making many Christians so busy that they do not come to Church as they should. All the time and energy to worship God are spent on the desire for material possessions. Let us imitate Jesus who won this temptation of the lust of the eyes. He rejected his request using another Scripture passage in Deuteronomy 6: 13 which commands us to worship and serve God alone. Jesus says, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (V. 10). Let us use our baptismal authority and rebuke the devil the same way as Jesus did. The desire for possession should not stop us from coming to Church to worship our God. The Holy Church invites us to observe the Lenten discipline of Almsgiving regularly to overcome the desire for possession. Almsgiving enables us to realize that material possession should strengthen our spiritual lives and connect us to God and our fellow humans. Anything opposite to that is wrong and a sin.

Saint Paul summarizes the first reading and the Gospel in our second reading. He teaches us that we were made sinners because of the disobedience of Eve and Adam. But Jesus who won these three temptations of the devil, his obedience to God brought us back to our initial alliance with God. Therefore, to maintain these relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters, the liturgy of this first Sunday of Lenten calls us to overcome the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The observance of the Lenten disciplines, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, are the keys to winning these temptations and staying connected to God and to our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Fr. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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