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First Sunday of Lent

Barbara Quinn, RSCJ


Scripture Readings:
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Today, in the Eucharistic liturgy of the first Sunday of Lent, we have two Scripture stories that are all too familiar to us. First, the book of Genesis offers us the classic story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they become aware of the fruit bearing tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Second, we have the epic drama of Jesus’ temptations in the Gospel of Matthew. But I suggest it is the middle reading, perhaps the less poetic reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, that provides the clue, the fulcrum, the glue that holds the other two together.

Adam, “every man,” and Eve, “every woman,” walked the paths of the garden of paradise as their daily fare.  We can only imagine how happy and satisfied they were! Yet, even as they basked in a life free of pain and want, they could hardly resist the seduction of power. Contrary to God’s warning that death would await them if they were to eat the fruit of the tree, the evil one lured Eve: “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.”  How much better can it get than to be as powerful as God?! The temptation was too much to resist!

Reflections for the First Sunday of Lent 2014
Reflections for the First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel of Matthew offers us a front row seat as Jesus, the Son of God, embarks on his public mission to usher in God’s Reign. There, waiting for him, was the evil one, trying to seduce him to escape the price of humanity: vulnerability, hunger, dependency. Who could have blamed Jesus if he had caved into the seduction to be above it all? After 40 days in the desert, praying and listening to the Spirit, summoning up courage to embark on God’s mission of reconciliation and healing, mercy and forgiveness, Jesus had to have had a sense of the price he would pay.  Who would have condemned him if he had chosen to take an easier path?

And here is the core temptation of our two stories:  Will we be ourselves, our true selves?  Our scripture unfolds a tale of two choices. Adam and Eve, for their part, refused to be who they were:  humans and not gods.  Such falsehood could only lead to turmoil and struggle, unhappiness and alienation from their authentic selves. Jesus, on the other hand, resisted the temptation to act solely out of his divine personhood by denying his humanity. He accepted the poverty of his humanity because he was the human face of God for us. He was here to bridge the human and divine so that all humans would understand God’s way of loving and saving us as humans! But Jesus, as human, had to grow into the understanding of his true self just as we do.  His obedience to the core of his true self, fully human and fully God, released the power of God as he lived out his mission to all.  Paradoxically, this One who would suffer rejection, misunderstanding, and ultimately death was the One who revealed the victory of life over death, truth over falsehood, and hope over despair.  This is the gift and the good news that he offers to us.

Here enter Paul. Against the backdrop of Genesis and the Gospel, he underscores the weight of our choices as we face the “power of one” that each of us has been given. The consequences are real and, in some instances, monumental. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters: through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned.” He continues: “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.” 

The power of one…How do you choose to live your life?  How do I choose to live my life?  Will we live our lives for good or for ill?  Will we follow our deepest truth to the end or live a charade for the sake of others?  Parker Palmer includes a wise Hasidic tale in his book, Let Your Life Speak, which highlights the importance of becoming one’s self:

Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?’  They will ask me:  ‘Why were you not Zusya?

As people made in God’s own image, Jesus’ search is ours, too, and so we ask: Who am I deep down at my core?  Who am I when no one is looking? Who am I in the dark of the night when stillness lay all around and I am left alone with my dreams and my fears, my hopes and heartaches? Embracing this search is the most original thing we do. And when we, by grace, have the courage and honesty to stay with the search, we will know the great gift of being at home in our own skins, of being at peace. It is then that the power of one lived in faithful friendship with God and one’s self can make all the difference as we share in Jesus’ own mission.

This, too, is a Lenten call: to live the one life we have been given with integrity, we who are made in the image of God. It is to follow this deepest, most original call after the pattern of Jesus who has revealed the astonishing gift that we are loved for who we are and no one else. As we remain faithful to this true self, God can work wonders through us in bringing about the Reign of God. 

As Mary Oliver asks in her poem, “A Summer Day”: 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?           

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