On this first Sunday of Lent, we once again hear the Gospel story of Jesus being led by the Spirit into the desert where he is tested by Satan for 40 days. The struggle of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry is the fundamental conflict of the human person, as masterfully told in the Book of Genesis, our first reading for this Sunday.
The failure of Adam and Eve, which is the problem for all of humanity, is corrected by Jesus. These Scriptures give us clear guidance about this challenge of sin, and reveal it at its ‘core’ for what it is and reveal in Jesus the key to its resolution.
We hear in the Book of Genesis that man and woman are created by God. Fundamental as this simple statement is, there is a profound truth here for contemplation today. Yes, we are created by God. The human person is both body (made from the earth) and spirit (God’s breath inebriates our being). Every human being is a marvelous synthesis of body and spirit, faith and reason, human and divine. The difficulty is maintaining an equilibrium in this delicate dance.
All of us are familiar with the temptations of Satan. We can in many ways relate to Jesus experience in the desert. However, we are also familiar with the experience of Adam and Eve of failing to properly contend with this sly adversary. But what exactly is the primary seduction, the ‘original sin?’ A clue is given in the Book of Genesis.
Notice that Adam and Eve are placed within a beautiful garden. Notice also that God is pleased to dwell with them, to associate with them, to provide for their every need. There is nothing ‘bad’ in and of itself in any of creation. Also of note is the instruction of God that Adam and Eve can partake of everything in the garden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Most significantly, this tree is at the center of the garden.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is symbolic of the very essence of God, who alone orders all things. The primary seduction of evil is to want to take on the role of God ourselves. The ‘original sin’ is to place our self at the center, and thus displacing God. This is reminiscent of Pope Francis’ call to us to go out to the periphery of society.
“Periphery” by nature refers to a center. We are not the center – neither of creation, nor of the Church. Christ is the Center from which we draw our true identity – from whom we are given our mission as disciples – from whom we are sent into the world – to whom we continually return for nourishment, forgiveness, salvation and life.
We see in today’s Gospel how Jesus maintains this proper focus on God in his struggle with Satan. He knows that the only way to conquer Satan is by the power that comes from God’s Word: “Man does not live on bread alone, but upon every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Just as Jesus kept his eyes on God in the midst of temptation, we are to keep Christ before us. Jesus did not subvert the will of God by taking short cuts (turning stones into bread – claiming worldly power to accomplish his mission) – rather he remained faithful to God’s will.
Lent is a time for us to return again to a right relationship with God. Lent calls us to surrender once again the ‘center’ to God. Lent calls us to humbly recall our association through sin with Adam and Eve, and in this knowledge admit our need for a Savior. We thank God for the goodness of creation, the beauty of the human person, and the fidelity and mercy of God who redeems us through Jesus Christ our Lord.