Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C 2019
Creation in Genesis chapter one is in procession to the Day of Rest. It begins with the elements and culminates in the creation of man and woman, who not only rested with the Creator when they reached the seventh day, the Day of Rest, but they returned to Him worship in recognition of who He is – God, and in appreciation of what He has done – the creation of the world. Thus, the Genesis account of creation reveals that God has a plan for creation, and creation is good.
The emphasis on the goodness of creation as it is seen almost in every verse of Genesis chapter one was intended by the author to underscore the origin of creation. The author was more or less saying, “Friends, creation comes from God and creation is ordered towards God. So, for anyone to find meaning, appreciate the gift of creation or fulfil one’s purpose, he or she has to return to the Creator”. This theme of returning to the Creator is the heart of the Scriptures.
It is also the heart of the Lenten Season. On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel literally cried out, “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12). This text tells us the meaning of Lent. It calls us and sends us on a 40-day journey of remembering what God has done, is doing and will do – the Paschal Mystery. It is a journey that begins with the hunger for more of God; for His mercy and grace.
It is also a journey that avails us the opportunity to discern and discover who we truly are, what the Lord wants of us and where He is leading us. For we live in a world that peddles lies on who we are, our origin and our destiny. No doubt, many of us have bought into these lies like: “I am free, and no one can tell me what to do. I am spiritual, not religious”. While these lies are trendy, they leave us with either an inflated ego or a dark image that speaks of despair.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness addresses these lies. But before we get into them, it is important to note that we aren’t tempted to do evil, to do something obviously bad, we are tempted to do the lesser good, i.e. something that is a counterfeit of the good. And this is what is confusing about temptation. We are presented with stories that look true, things that look beautiful and people that look good and we fall for them because of their appearance – idolatry!
This was the case with Adam and Eve. “So when the woman saw (sight) that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Notice how the temptation was a counterfeit of the good, the beautiful and the truth. Eve therefore ate the counterfeit and threw away the original good.
Interestingly, the action of the fall of Adam and Eve is that “they took and ate”. “Took”, meaning they were responsible. It was their choice. The serpent didn’t force it down their throats. They reached out for it. “Ate”, meaning becoming. For according Feuerbach, “we become what we eat”. So, when Adam and Eve ate the counterfeit, they became counterfeit; from that moment, they were filled with guilt, shame and regret. They had lost their true self.
This is the burden of sin, the aftermath of giving in to temptation. For every sin begins with the corruption of our thinking, our imagination. It then grows into our doubt of God’s goodness. It also leads us to distrust God, to question if He has our best interest at heart. Finally, it ends with our rejection of the Fatherhood of God. And when we turn our backs against God, we fall into ourselves; we begin to ascribe to ourselves and things a worth that belongs to God alone.
With this background in mind, we will now turn the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as we have just heard from Luke Gospel 4:1-13. The devil began by working on the mind of Jesus, “If you are the Son of God”. Now the devil knew who Jesus was, just as he knows who we are. But he plays on our mind in order to lead us to self-doubt, which makes an opening for him to sow seeds of distrust; thus, leading us to reject God, His laws and even His forgiveness.
But there is something more about the temptation of Jesus. It is how He overcame them. First, Jesus didn’t allow the devil to get into his mind and mess with His thinking. He focused on the Father. He said No to the devil’s offer to live on bread alone, i.e. sensual and material things. In the same vein, we must focus on God, remembering what He has done. This is what Moses commanded the Israelites to do in Deuteronomy 26:4-10. And for us, our greatest memory is the Cross.
Second, because He wasn’t living on bread alone, but on “every word that comes from the mouth of God”, He spoke the word to the devil. And since the word calls us to true worship, the right order of things both sensual and spiritual to their proper end, the Day of Rest, He overcame the devil's temptation to worship him. St. Paul in Romans 10: 8-13 says, “The word is very near to you…” So, let’s take advantage of the Lenten season and meditate on God’s Word.
Finally, Jesus didn’t just quote the word to the devil to disarm him, He did what the word said – He honoured the Father. He refused to put Him to the test. We too must do what the Word commands us to do. We have worshipped the Father. For as Dorothy Day said, “worship cultivates culture”. As such, if we worship rightly, we cultivate the right culture that humbles us; a culture that enables us to do justice to God by honouring the Lord’s Day, to rest with God.
Fr. Francis Afu