Mar. 1, 2020

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, 2020

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.