2005—First Sunday of Lent—A
Here we are again, embarking on another Lenten journey. The call we heard on Ash Wednesday to fast, give alms, and pray remind us of our constant need for conversion in our lives. Lent is an important time for us every year, for it helps us, little by little every year, to learn to turn our hearts and minds more toward Jesus. I think our readings today have a lot to say about the orientation of our hearts and minds, and call us to redirect them more completely toward God.
In that primordial story of Adam and Eve, coming out of the traditions of Ancient Israel,
we hear a faith response to the troubling awareness of the existence of sin, evil and death.
Yet, probably more importantly, this story uncovers the
reality of our divided hearts and minds.
This story reminds us of what we already know only too well:
- our capacity to seek to satisfy our every hunger, whatever the cost;
- our ability to give into our material desires without much regard for the needs of others;
- or even our propensity to place ourselves at the center of whatever we deem to be really important often without much thought about where God fits into these situations.
Yes, we know well the sin of Adam and Eve, for we often turn our backs on God just as they did. The example of Adam and Eve and the many ways we can relate to them by failing to place God at the center of our lives is juxtaposed, of course, by the example of Jesus in our gospel reading.
We know from this gospel passage, along with the Letter to the Hebrews, that Jesus was tempted throughout his life to deny his calling and turn away from God. [This aspect of Jesus' life, I think, was depicted well in the recent film, The Passion of the Christ, for temptation followed Jesus every step of the way hoping that he would give up and deny his calling] The point is that, like us, Jesus was tempted in every possible way.
Jesus' temptations were all ways of distorting his true vocation: the call to be a truly human being, to be God's Son, and to be a servant to the world and other people. When the cunning voice of temptation hit him whether it be in response to a physical desire screaming for satisfaction, the world beckoning seductively, or even the devil himself offering undreamed-of power Jesus never forgot whence he came or to whom his heart was directed.
In this brief passage of Jesus' temptation in the desert, we learn that he was committed:
- to living off of God's word;
- to trusting God completely, without setting up trick tests to put God on the spot;
- and to loving and serving God alone.
The temptations we all face, day by day and at critical moments of decision and transition in our lives, may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. They are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us, to turn us aside, from the path of living our lives with God at our center.
For the next forty days (actually, it is down to 35 now!), may we be given the courage to follow the Spirit's lead into the desert retreat to follow Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life with God. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus this Lent, learning to trust him more fully with our lives.
- To help us on our spiritual journeys, perhaps we could set aside some time for prayer or a devotion, or perhaps make an extra effort to offer care for those in need?
Whatever our Lenten practices may be, let us make every effort to remember our calling - the calling we heard in last Sunday's readings - to bring light into the world. Last Wednesday, we received ashes on our foreheads as a public sign, not only of our individual and corporate need for repentance, but also as a sign of who we are. Yet, it seems to me that if we are to be light for the world we must not be known by an outward mark on our foreheads but by the way in which we live our lives.
When Jesus is at the center of our hearts and claims precedence in our thoughts and actions, we become God's light for the world and witness to others who we are and to whom we belong. May the God of love and compassion turn our hearts and minds back to the Lord, and may this Lent be a springtime of renewal for our faith commitment to Christ.