AS IN THE DAYS OF LAZARUS
Readings: 1st- Ezek. 37:12-14; 2nd- Rom. 8:8-11; Gospel- Jn. 11:1-45
We can look at several parallels in today’s readings: death vs resurrection; despair vs hope; fear vs confidence; physical life vs divine presence; natural vs miraculous; darkness vs light; doubt vs belief. The first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel begins by recapitulating the experience of the Israelites in Babylonian exile. Ezekiel, known to be a tough prophet, encourages his audience in hope. He pictures Israel as being in their graves (hopelessness) from where God will deliver them. Ironically, the people exiled (fear) because of their sins (despair) still experience God’s love while in exile (divine presence). God’s plan for Israel remains unchangeable, “I will open your graves, and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and have you rise up from them” (37:12). This seems to set the stage for the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead in the gospel. Christians are invited to manifest hope in God despite seemingly impossible situations.
We might need to ask what is it that makes Lazarus’ story such a popular one in the Scriptures?
- Lazarus’ case represents human freedom threatened by insurmountable difficulty.
- It points to human vulnerability in the absence of Jesus.
- It directs us to the transcendental truth that miracles contradict the laws of nature.
- It challenges believers to exhibit faith in the most abnormal circumstances.
- It foreshadows the resurrection of Christ.
- The story depicts Christ’s victory over death.
The shock started with the reaction of Jesus on hearing about Lazarus’ serious illness. Jesus, as we know could be chill during what would look like human emergencies. He seemed uninvolved at the disciples’ experience of the storm. He was chill at the sight of the man born blind. Now he is chill at a very troubling news of Lazarus’ imminent death, goes on ministering till Lazarus eventually died. Martha and Mary sent a clear message expecting he would hasten to visit because of their close relationship with him, “Master, the one you love is ill.” They knew that by his divine powers, Jesus could prevent Lazarus from dying if he had come and each repeated before him, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus wanted to reinforce the intended goal for such seeming calamity, “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The lesson might be confusing for us but Jesus puts it this way, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27).
This aspect of Jesus’ life would always baffle the disciples. In the case of Lazarus, it was an opportunity of faith awakening; Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The disciples thought that if Lazarus was asleep, no need to help him wake up. He would have to work out his own salvation, they thought. Hence, Jesus made it clear to them that Lazarus had died, “And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” Could he be referring to his own resurrection? Could he be prophesying here, what Thomas would do when the Son of Man rose from the dead? Isn’t faith supposed to believe before physical evidence? In this event, it was the same Thomas that spoke on behalf of the other disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
Each step that Jesus took in this passage formed the building block of a great revelation which Lazarus’ death pointed to. Yes, raising Lazarus from death was at stake but Jesus’ resurrection was the real deal, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise" (Matt. 9:31). Jesus was not afraid of the Jews who were planning to stone him. He was not afraid to go back to Judea. His mission was to free Lazarus and the entire humanity from the captivity of death.
The news of Jesus’ arrival at the house of Martha and Mary made a difference. Martha stepped out to meet him. Like most Pharisees, Martha believed in the resurrection even though she seemed disappointed that Jesus had not responded promptly. Still, Martha believed in the power of God and said to Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha’s faith made her a primary beneficiary of the good news of Jesus’ mission and identity. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus needed Martha to profess this faith albeit her brother’s physical death. Unlike Thomas who would want to see before believing, Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” and she said, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha teaches us a great lesson here: our faith must be alive irrespective of the circumstance. She didn’t let grief take away her confidence in Christ.
Jesus identified with Mary and Martha in an emotional way. He wept. Jesus wept at the miserable condition which death had brought them. He wept that the tomb covered the beauty of life which God gratuitously gave to humanity. Jesus wept at the helplessness of the weeping crowd in the house of Martha and Mary. But Jesus thanked the Father for hearing him on our behalf, for freeing us from the shackles of the physical death of which Lazarus became a victim. Jesus gave us reason to hope when he spoke to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?“ We must believe to see the glory of God at work.
Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading that if Christ is in us, the body might be dead because of sin but the spirit never dies. God cares for us so much that he has given us Christ. In today’s world held captive by the COVID-19, aren’t we like the old Israelites scrambling in their graves? Aren’t we like the disciples unable to differentiate sleep from death? Aren’t we like the disciples lacking understanding of our situation? Aren’t we like Thomas nervous and confused? Aren’t we like the crowd wailing helplessly in the house? Aren’t we like Martha and Mary feeling desperate at the absence of the Master? Aren’t we like Lazarus completely covered by the weight of the tomb and filled with stenches? But Jesus is here. He weeps with us. He knows how much the Father cares for us. He has the power to untie the burdens on our shoulders. Like in the days of Lazarus, Jesus intercedes for us. He reminds us, “the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom. 8:11). Let us reenkindle our hope in Christ. Let us resurrect our faith like Martha and Mary. Let us beseech Jesus to be present, to dispel the powers of darkness, sin, and death in our world. Yes, Lazarus’ death was a negative thing but it brought everyone to life through Jesus Christ, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him” (Jn. 11:45). As in the days of Lazarus, so shall it be in our time.
Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a; 2nd- Eph. 5:8-14; Gospel- Jn. 9: 1-41
“so that the works of God might be made visible”
In this weekend’s gospel, the healing of the man born blind can be viewed as follows:
- It takes us back to the original creation when God made the human being out of clay (Gen. 2:7).
- It initiates the new creation in Jesus Christ “sent’ to heal us as the “Pool” from whom “blood and water flowed” (Jn. 19:34).
- It recalls our cleansing in the baptismal water.
- It communicates the preeminence of the dignity of human life over the Sabbath.
- It portrays the power of empathy in interhuman relationships.
These are all important aspects of the saving mission of Christ and the great components of our faith. But I will love to emphasize the second and the fifth points in this homily. I will apply the biblical narrative of the blind man’s situation to the current struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first reading highlights God’s choice of King David. God’s plan is meant to be accomplished irrespective of human thinking. God sends the priest Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Jesse never imagined that none of his seven big and handsome sons would fit into the category of the elect. He never conceived that the little David would become the chosen. For that reason, he didn’t mention David’s name when the celebration began. But for God, human thinking is insignificant; He chose the little shepherd-David, a man after his own heart to govern Israel. The message from that reading is this, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
In the gospel narrative of the healing of the man born blind, the disciples act like Jesse and question Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ These are the two reasons for which someone could be born blind within the Jewish parlance: either he is suffering as punishment for the sins of his parents or he is paying for his own sins. The disciples place judgment and blame side by side in their perception of the man born blind. In their minds they conclude, let him suffer for his sins. Jesus corrects this erroneous Jewish belief. He reminds them that none of their human imaginations is correct; neither the man nor his parents sinned. That means human suffering is not necessarily the effect of sins committed. Here, Jesus reframes the problem into a divine solution and teaches his followers, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn. 9:3). Which are those works of God?
First, the creation account comes into focus. God formed man out of the dust of the earth, in his image and likeness. God would do anything to free us from the force of darkness and sin. Second, the power of light will always overcome darkness. Jesus is the light of the world and as he states in this reading, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). Light dispels darkness and evil. As Light of the world, Jesus removes the distortion of blindness thereby restoring the blind man’s spiritual insight which led him to testify, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped him” (Jn. 9:38). As Saint Paul says in the second reading, “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
The disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees demonstrate sheer lack of empathy in the gospel passage. Both of these groups focus on blame, judgment, and condemnation of the man born blind. The disciples succumb to the stereotypical manner of looking at the blind man as unworthy, punished, and condemned. They lack compassion. The Pharisees are adamant in not only accepting the reality of the man’s healing but in denying God’s work in Jesus Christ. They insist on disproving the miracle that is before them through the following ways:
- They start with minimizing the miracle, “Some said, “No, he just looks like him.” But the man said, “I am.”
- They are not convinced, so, they press further, “How were your eyes opened?”
- They make Jesus look like a dissident, “So, some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not keep the Sabbath.”
- They intimidate the man further, “what do you have to say about him?”
- The evidence of the man isn’t sufficient. They invite his parents for interrogation, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” Mark the phrase, “who you say was born blind.”
- They invite him a second time and try to win him over, to make him denounce Jesus.
- They ridicule him on his refusal to succumb to pressure.
- They condemn him, then reinforce the disciples’ position, “You were born totally in sin.”
- Finally, “they threw him out” (Jn. 9:34).
All these actions contradict the work of God which Jesus comes to accomplish. And because the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus lack the capacity to see the love of God in the healing of the blind man, they are the really blind. They are blind in empathy and compassion. They are blind to God’s goodness and mercy. They misjudge the man. They make him look inferior. They relegate his right to see in the background and prefer the laws of the Sabbath instead.
Within this outbreak of the pandemic COVID-19, the world seems blind in a lot of ways. The uncertainty of the next moment seems to put us in a blind spot. Fear, anxiety, and stress seem to take over our hope. We seem to be locked up in the now, in the dark doors of complaint, murmur, and self-pity. Can we raise our heads up and see the healing power of God in Christ? Yes, it might be a time of suffering, pain, loss, and frustration. Yet, in the words of Saint Paul, let us remember, "We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-6).
Our blindness also manifests in a lack of understanding of God’s plan for the world. What message is God sending across in the face of this pandemic? How do we interpret those messages? Now, we must open our eyes to the ocean of divine compassion which prompts spiritual and corporal works in us. Let us not act like the disciples or like the Pharisees. The blind man represents the vulnerable, the weak among us. He reminds us of those considered to be at high-risk at this time. They need our compassion. They need to feel God’s love and human affection. Yes, we should obey the rules and restrictions set by scientists and medical experts, the legislations of our state government. We need to observe the six feet social-distancing from each other. However, those rules should not outdo God’s commandment of love. The danger is that if we implement the guidelines as dry rules, we act like the Pharisees. If we dwell on the letters and overlook the spirit, the regulations become instruments of isolation, agents of discrimination and shame. They turn us into “Pharisees” who judge or even misjudge, discriminate, and condemn. Then, we’ll see more of the presence of coronavirus than the image of a human being created in God’s beauty. We relegate human dignity to the background. We’ll lose empathy and compassion. We’ll become spiritually blind as Jesus says, “But now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” Two calls to be made: call on God in prayer to open our eyes of faith and hope. Call our neighbors- the weak, and vulnerable to express our vision of Christian charity.
CHRIST QUENCHES OUR THIRST
Readings: 1st- Ex. 17:3-7; Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8; Gospel- Jn. 4:5-42
One psalm that has remained in my mind since seminary days is Psalm 42 which says, “Like the deer that years for running streams so my soul is yearning for you my God.” Our souls thirst for Jesus, the “Living Water. “And the responsorial psalm reminds us, “If today you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” How many times do we hear God’s voice? What happens when we hear his voice? Could He be speaking to us now? Aren’t we like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah, questioning and lamenting, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
Describing the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the author of John’s gospel remarks, “Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon” (4:6). This sets the stage for an encounter that will lead to a transformation of the Samaritan woman. Importantly, we need to recognize that the gospel of John is filled with imagery. John uses the symbol of water to designate cleansing, purification, sanctification, and salvation which come from Christ. In Chapter 1 of John, we see the use of water in John’s baptism and his reference to Christ as filled with the Spirit. In chapter 2, water features in the first miracle of Jesus where he changes water into wine. In the third chapter, Jesus encounters Nicodemus and says to him, “no one can enter into the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” Chapter 4 introduces this long narrative of today’s reading which is centered around Jacob’s well; the Samaritan woman is invited to the Living Water. In chapter 5, Jesus encounters the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years at the pool of Bethesda. When asked about his intention to be well, the man responded, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up” (Jn. 5:7-8). Jesus’ healed him. In chapter 6, the disciples encounter Jesus walking on the water. Chapter 7 describes Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. Similar to the encounter with the Samaritan woman, the Jews say about Jesus, “Could the authorities have realized that he is the messiah?” Jesus exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him” (Jn. 7:37-38). These passages will help us to put today’s story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in a proper perspective. John’s use of the water metaphor is a constant theme in his gospel.
One of the commentators of John’s gospel, Hugh O’Donnel, in an essay on John 7:37-39 writes, “The water well narrative of Chapter 4, where “living water” is first mentioned, echoes three similar encounters at a well in Hebrew Scripture; Isaac’s wife was found at the well of Nahor (Gen. 24:10-16, 42-67), Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well (Gen. 29:1-30) and Moses received Zipporah as a wife after saving seven of Reuel’s daughters at a well in Midian (Exod. 2:15-21). It is not a coincidence that the three bridegrooms, all famous Jewish prophets, are being linked to Jesus who is offering the Samaritan woman living water. The author of John tells us Jesus is not only greater than the prophet Jacob and Moses, he is the Messiah, the One called Christ (4:26). Jesus is now connected to the bridegroom of Samaria, the true bridegroom of Cana (2:9), and the new bridegroom of Israel that John the Baptist talked about (3:27-30).” The Samaritan woman who went to the well in the hot afternoon experienced the Living Water. For her and for the Samaritans, Jacob’s well was special. The woman never imagined that she was going to meet Jesus. She never thought that would be an encounter that would transform her life and those of her people.
So, why did Jesus show up at the well? John noted that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (4:4) irrespective of the long-standing feud between Jews and Samaritans. Geographically too, Jews could cross the Jordan to avoid getting into the Samaritan territory. Yet Jesus went into this town, then stopped at Jacob’s well of all places. Finally, he encountered the Samaritan woman who came to fetch water. We must recognize that Jesus never did anything by accident since He was God. Jesus crossed many boundaries in this passage to quench the thirst of this woman (having lived with five husbands already) and to bring the Living Water to the Samaritans. Through encountering the woman, the Samaritan people are drawn to Jesus to receive both individual and collective healing. For that reason, Jesus explained to her, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn. 4:23). The Father sought the Samaritan people to worship him. The Father seeks us out to worship him.
See how that encounter changed the Samaritan woman’s life. She came to the well to draw water. She had a jar in her hand. All she wanted was to drink from the familiar Jacob’s well. She believed that Jews and Samaritans had nothing in common and that Samaritans worshipped on their own mountain. She had never experienced the Messiah. All this changed. Jesus moved her from the tangible, earthly reality of water drawn from Jacob’s well to unseen, heavenly realities of experiencing the gifts of God and the living water. Her conversation moved from, “How can you a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink?, to “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” In the end, the woman left her precious water jar and went into the town to bring her people. Despite her past, she became a channel for them, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he be the Messiah?”
I believe we can do two things within this crazy time of the COVID-19 corona outbreak. First, recognize that Jesus is the Living Water. We need Jesus to cleanse and sanctify us. We need a greater longing for Jesus. Only the Living Water can quench our thirst. Second, we need to direct others to Jesus like the Samaritan woman. The Israelites had their Massah and Meribah experience and wondered, “Is the Lord with us or not?” We are wondering if the Lord is still with us. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, we can no longer hold each other’s hands. We can no longer feel the warmth from each other’s hugs. We can no longer cherish each other’s embrace. We have almost become isolated in the midst of pains, losses and constant news of newer cases of infection and death. We can be likened to what is described in the book of Lamentations, “How deserted lies the city, once full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among nations. She who was a queen among the provinces has become a slave” (Lam. 1:1). But we can hold each other’s hearts. We can still cheer each other through the gospel message that we share. We can still provide the comfort of the Living Water to others, “we boast in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). Let’s not despair. Let’s not give up. Let adore Jesus within our hearts and offer each other up for his love and compassion. Let us pray that the world recognizes what gift God is giving us in Christ Jesus his Son. Amen.
God does not take us on a hopeless trip
Readings: 1st- Gen. 12:1-4; 2nd- 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Gospel- Matt. 17:1-9
The story of Abram looks like a sweet beginning of an experience marked with uncertainty. God calls a man in his old age and commands him to move to a destination unknown to him. The paradox is that Abram is leaving for an unknown place with all the uncertainties in the journey, yet God makes numerous promises to him for his commitment and obedience. Abram’s obedience merits his blessings from God: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse.” Isn’t that great? God expands Abram’s frontiers from living for himself to living for others, from being a blessing to himself to being a blessing for others. He becomes a blueprint for future blessings: “All the communities shall find blessing in you” (Gen. 12:4). Walking with the Lord ushers in a future that is filled with blessings. One major lesson here is that God does not take us on a hopeless trip.
The gospel presents the account of the transfiguration of Christ. It is a story filled with images and symbols. The central message is that the identity and mission of Christ are revealed to his disciples by the highlight of an extraordinary newness evident in Christ. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the top of the mountain for a purpose. At the mountain, he is transfigured, his face shines like the sun while his clothes radiate an intense brightness. This ushers in the strange figures, Moses and Elijah who enter into a conversation with Jesus. Peter feels good about the experience and pleads to remain there. Peter is also able to identify the Old Testament figures and wishes to make three tents for them and for their Master. Scriptures don’t say what the reaction of Jesus is to Peter’s request, rather, the scene shifts to a more transforming and deeper experience. A bright cloud casts over them, then the voice accompanies it from heaven. This voice bears witness to Jesus as the beloved Son with whom the Father is well pleased and ends with the invitation to the disciples to listen to him.
At the transfiguration, the apostles seem lost in ecstasy. The theophany (revelation of Jesus’ hidden identity), the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of the Father are all frightening events. The apostles are afraid. Jesus strengthens them. Moses and Elijah disappear at this point leaving the disciples with Jesus alone. God designed this purpose to bring the disciples to a deeper understanding of the divine nature of Jesus. He uses the presence of Moses and Elijah to point to the reality of Jesus’ mission, “I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Now that the apostles have understood the identity of Jesus, they must face the reality of his mission, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9). Every encounter with Jesus brings transformation. Like Abram, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a strange journey. Remember, God does not take us on a hopeless trip.
Paul’s letter to Timothy seems clearer than the gospel and the first reading filled with images and symbols. Paul writes to Timothy about the challenges of Christian life and summons him to bear his own share of hardship for the gospel. Last week, I spent most of my time in one of the hospitals in Baltimore just sitting beside a close family friend who was seriously sick. I watched her scream and turn from one side of the bed to the other. Each time she looks at me, it is as if to ask, “why should all this be happening to me?” As I hold this friend’s hand and pray, I keep reflecting on the meaning of suffering, the meaning of pain. When I walk out to stretch myself in the hospital hallway, the feeling is intensified. I see different categories of patients, some being wheeled on the bed in a semi-conscious position, some being guided and supported by nurses to learn to walk again, others taking a walk by themselves to gauge their recovery. Each has some share of the suffering at that point. What touched me was that any time my friend opened her eyes and saw me beside her, she would utter the words, “Fr., please pray for me. It seems I’m dying.” Thank God she didn’t die. I felt like I was there to remind her that God does not take us on a hopeless trip.
Saint Paul recognizes that each of us would have some experience of the hardship of Christ. He says, “Bear your share…” That means we are only taking a little from the main source of the hardship. Christ is the main source from whom we take our own share. That’s why he says to the apostles in the gospel, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” It is not unusual that we experience suffering as human beings. But how do we face it? It comes in different forms and at various times. We experience sickness. We experience loss (house, money, job, pet, human beings). We encounter failures. We witness betrayals. We suffer hurts and pains from abusive relationships. Worse still, we may be attacked for our faith. Paul reminds us today, to bear our own share of the hardship for the sake of our faith. He invites us to feel the strength that comes from God at such times. Have you ever felt the comforting presence of Christ by holding the bible to your chest when you are stressed? Have you ever held the rosary in your hand feeling the warm presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the middle of the night when sleep eludes your eyes? Peter, James, and John felt the same way in today’s gospel. They “were very much afraid,” but Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
While we bear our own share of the hardship, let us remember that Jesus first suffered for us. Let us unite our sufferings with him and ask for his help. Scripture says, “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:3-4). God always fills us with his grace, he transforms us. Obviously, you are not alone in your suffering, Jesus is there; He touches you. Like my friend in the hospital, may you find someone holding your hands and bringing God’s warmth to you. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, God does not take us on a hopeless trip.
Readings: 1st- Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1-7; 2nd- Rom. 5:12-19; Gospel- Matt. 4:1-11
THE DEVIL’S JOB IS TO TEMPT US, GOD’S MISSION IS TO SAVE US
The entire readings of today feature the devil’s business in the world, to tempt humanity, to take us away from the beauty of God’s goodness. The first reading presents us with the origins of sin in the world, how Adam and Eve lost their place in the garden. The temptation scene can be approached in three categories: 1. The Pre-Fall encounter between Eve and the Serpent. 2. The Fall, which sees the snowball effect. 3. The Consequence of the Fall, they hid in shame.
In the beauty of the Garden- God made everything delightful to look at and to serve as food for the human beings He put in the garden. The devil came in the form of the Serpent to snatch that beauty away. The Serpent displayed smart skills for the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” How did the serpent know? Did God give him the power to know everything? The answer is no. Rather, the devil plays on the psychology of our human desires in order to get us thinking that we should succumb to what our passions want. That’s exactly why Eve indulged the serpent. Eve’s response provided the serpent enough window to strike when she said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’” The answer wasn’t convincing, so the serpent knew that she was open to trying something other than what God had said. Eve should have dismissed the Serpent right at the beginning. She could scold him for attempting to lure her into sin. The Serpent identified Eve’s weakness and continued, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” This gives us the first key to overcoming temptations as we shall see in the gospel, “do not leave room for the devil” (Eph. 4:26).
Second is the snowball effect of the Fall. The serpent succeeded in getting the woman to eat the fruit. As soon as Eve ate the fruit, she became an agent of the Serpent for her husband. She spread the sin to Adam, “And she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” The devil can use human beings to get at us, most times, those who are dear to us, those whom he knows might find it difficult to resist us. Eve was dear to Adam, “the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The Serpent didn’t need to get into the conversation with Adam because he knew that Eve would do the job. If Eve fell, then Adam was an easy target. Most times, our beloved ones lead us to sin. It is those we love so much, those whose demands we are not able to resist, that make us fall. Think about the way you feel when your best friend makes a demand that is tough for you. Part of you feels that it is not the proper thing, the other part would not want to offend your friend. The danger is to save your relationship and agree. This is the snowball effect of sin. We fall because our friends fall.
A third factor in the encounter at the Garden of Eden is the consequence of the Fall for Adam and Eve and subsequently for us. Having eaten the fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened.” Usually, our eyes open when we succumb to our negative habits. We feel guilty. We feel ashamed. We feel belittled. It might be proper to understand what happens to the human brain when the passions or desires are at work. The logical part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) shuts down. The brain releases certain hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin. The hormones help to take notice of rewards like food and sex and also position the body to want to get more. As soon as this is over, the rational part of the brain comes alive again, the eyes open. In the case of Adam and Eve, their rational eyes remained close at the time they desired and ate the fruit. As soon as they ate it, their eyes opened, “they realized that they were naked.” Compare this case with that of the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke (chapter 15). This is the moment of sanity in the midst of our human weakness. Adam and Eve realized that they had committed a crime. They became reasonable for a moment. The prodigal son’s sane moment happened after he had spent all the money he took from the father and became hungry; “he came back to his senses” (Lk. 15:17). Adam and Eve let shame get the better part of them, “so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” That was their fundamental mistake. They sought the wrong help. In the case of the prodigal son, he said to himself, “I shall get up and go to my father…” (Lk. 15:18). Here, we are presented with two ways to deal with sin, either succumb to shame and let evil protect us or rise and go back to God. Either the way of Adam or the way of the prodigal son. The way of Adam hides in addiction, lies, shame, guilt. The way the prodigal son seeks the right help, mercy, and grace.
Jesus teaches us the right approach to temptation in the gospel. He faces three major trials: 1. To command that stones become loaves of bread (hunger). 2. To throw himself down and let the angels catch him (power). 3. To prostrate himself before the devil and be given the treasures of the world (wealth). Just as the devil played a fast one with Eve/Adam, so he tried it with Jesus. All three temptations of Jesus were humanly alluring. They presented the most attractive offers. The devil also made reference to the authority of God as a disguise to get Jesus to succumb. The devil will always be smart. However, Jesus proved to be smarter. He was ahead of the devil. He rebuked him right away. Jesus opened the devil’s eyes.
The lessons from the temptation passages today remind us that temptations are real. They are parts of our human experiences as Christians because it is the devil’s job to tempt us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus who overcame the devil because he prepared for it. Aren’t we aware that temptations exist? Can we take our cue from Jesus? He fasted for forty days in the desert from where he emerged stronger. Lent provides us the forty days’ opportunity to equip ourselves with spiritual energy to battle the devil. Fighting sin, addictions, bad habits are better done spiritually. Saint Paul encourages us, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11). Do not engage in long conversations with the devil, he will win you. Do not bargain with sin, that’s the Jesus’ key.
Should you be overpowered by your passion, do not hide in shame. Do not run to the wrong solution. Shame can only make you weaker. Avoid self-pity. Get back to God, the reason why Saint Paul says in the second reading of today, “how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Your sin may be great, God’s love and grace remain always greater.