The paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is at the center of our faith. The mystery is the lens through which we look at life and live the lives that have been given and won for us in Christ Jesus. The Season of Lent affords us time to prepare for our annual celebration of the paschal mystery at Easter.
The first two readings give us insight into the meaning of salvation, which is accomplished through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The first reading from the Book of Genesis describes the fall of man. Eve is tempted by the devil. The devil is cunning. Adam and Eve have been given everything they need in the garden. There is only one thing that was asked of them by God who created them and gave them everything.
The one thing they could not have is what the devil used to tempt them. At the heart of the temptation is that by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil man would be like “the gods.” Immediately the devil sows distrust for God’s word. God had told Adam and Eve that if they did eat of the tree they surely would die. The devil entices Eve to disregard or ignore this warning.
They give in to the temptation. They, for the first time, turn away from God. They disobey his will. With this act, sin enters the world. And as was warned, with sin comes death. After they eat of the tree their eyes were opened and they realize they are naked. In other words, they are full of shame.
The next passage in Genesis, which is not part of Sunday’s liturgical reading, tells us the consequences of that sin. Adam and Eve together represent mankind. Through their sin the relationships that form the basis of life are damaged: man’s relationship with God, with each other, within themselves and with the created world.
It is important to remember that throughout the entire account, God never stops loving man but acts to remedy the brokenness. The ultimate healing comes through Jesus, particularly through his passion, death and resurrection.
St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans describes this through a comparison with the first man. “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned…. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
Like Adam and Eve, Jesus was tempted by the devil but did not give in to his machinations and deceptions. Rather he saw them for what they are: an enticement to turn away from God, his heavenly Father. Jesus remains obedient to the Father – to the end. And in his faithful obedience he destroys the power of sin and its consequence of death. In his resurrection, Jesus becomes the Lord of Life. He is the victorious one and through him we have life. He heals the wounds of sin for all mankind.
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy recalls the temptation of Jesus. He is in the desert fasting for 40 days and nights. Fasting is a one of the standard penitential practices of Israel. He fasts on behalf of us. At the end of the fasting Jesus is “hungry.” Physically he is in a weakened state.
It is at this point that the devil strikes. And what does he use for his first temptation – food. The devil is wicked and has no concern for others. He does not care if Jesus has food, all he wants is for him to turn from God. In the first temptation he tried to do this by having Jesus “prove himself.” Jesus answers that his reliance is on the Father alone. In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to “force the hand,” so to speak, of God. Jesus quotes God’s law in response, and refuses.
In the third temptation, the devil offers Jesus worldly power in return for his worship. Jesus knows that all power, and kingship, are his Father’s and for the third time rebuffs the devil quoting from the Scriptures. This time he says: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
The First Sunday of Lent “leads off” our observance for Lent in preparation for Easter. The contemplation or reflection on the paschal mystery of Jesus’ life-giving and saving passion, death and resurrection helps us to understand our lives, inspires us to live those lives in thanksgiving and praise, and urges us to turn away from sin and seek forgiveness.
The Father’s love is real. His mercy is extraordinary. Jesus is the witness to that love. He invites us to be renewed in love by further entering into the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.