FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Reflection for February 26, 2023
First Sunday of Lent (A)
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 | Romans 5:12-19 | Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17 | Matthew 4:1-11
Last Wednesday, we began our Lenten journey with Jesus as we prepare to celebrate Easter. As we begin this season of Lent, our main themes for this weekend are temptation, sin, guilt, and forgiveness.
Fr. Godwin was driving through a small southern town in California when he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Fr. Godwin admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court. The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" The priest pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars, a dollar for every mile you went over the limit." Suddenly the judge recognized the young energetic priest. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid, but I am going to pay it for you." He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Fr. Godwin out and bought him a steak dinner! "That," said Fr. Godwin, is how God treats repentant sinners."
Where sin runs deep, God's grace is more. Our First reading from the book of Genesis reflects on the origin of sin among us. Can anything good come out of evil? The controversial idea of a fortunate fall is expressed in a portion of Catholic Liturgy called the “Exultet” whose authorship is often attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan and continues today in connection with the tradition of lighting of the paschal candle during the celebration of Easter. The text reads, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which merited for us so great a Redeemer.” The weakness of our First Parents brought about the coming of Jesus and all that he means to us for our lives. It is an example of how even behind unpleasant and, in fact, evil happenings, God’s love can be found at work. Because of sin, humankind must now experience pain and death. But also because of sin, humans can also experience mercy, salvation, and grace in ways they would not have been able to. Our first parents' disobedience allowed God to show his mercy and temperance in their punishments and his eternal providence towards humankind. God is in control no matter how bad things seem to be. He transforms awful to awesome.
A man went to his doctor and said, “Doctor, I’m coughing my heart out, it feels like my lungs are burning up.” “Let’s take a look,” said the doctor. So the doctor examined him. “It’s not looking good,” he said. “But you’re in luck, I’ve got a bottle of expectorant here. The instructions are on the bottle. Obey these, and it will clear this up in three days.” Five days later the man returned. “Doctor, you told me this stuff would cure me in three days. I’m not getting better, I’m getting worse.” “Did you read and obey the instructions?” the doctor asked. “Of course,” the man replied. “It says …” “Give me that bottle,” said the doctor, snatching it out of the man’s hand. “This bottle is unopened.” The obedient patient said, “You didn’t say I had to open it!”
God’s gracious gift of righteousness in Christ is far greater than the devastation of sin that resulted from Adam’s disobedience. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul gives us a recap and analysis of how sin and death entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and how likewise salvation and eternal life entered the world through the obedience of Jesus. Jesus succeeded where Adam failed; we now have acquittal where before we had condemnation; we have life where before we had death. In short, where as the many have suffered for the sin of one, the many can now rejoice in the righteousness of one.
Four Filipino clergymen - Deacon Manuel, Fr. Alexis, Fr. Nicolas and Msgr. Cristóbal - were spending their retreat and vacation at Jeju Island, South Korea. One evening they decided to tell each other their biggest temptation. Deacon Manuel said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but my big temptation is bad pictures. I have always wanted to keep a collection of adult magazines in the parish convent. “I have a bigger temptation," said Fr. Alexis. “It’s gambling. One Saturday instead of preparing my homily I was tempted to go to Resorts Dreams Manila to play the slot machine.” “Mine is worse still,” said Fr. Nicolas. “I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink. I feel like breaking into Valkyrieeleison to get really drunk.” Msgr. Cristóbal was quiet. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip – and if you will excuse me, I’d like to make a few phone calls!”
Lent is a time when we consider more strongly our spiritual struggle against sin. In the gospel, we hear about the temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan after his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. In what ways are you tempted? Temptation is not sin. Temptation is a call to action by an enemy who hopes to lure you into sin. You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. In the desert, Jesus was tempted by the devil. His temptation carries with it the same structure as the temptation of Israel in the desert. He was tempted with the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, and the lust of the eyes. The Gospel highlights for us one of the central themes of Lent. We are dependent upon God for all that we have and all that we are. Anything that leads us to forget this dependency or to distrust its sufficiency is a temptation from the devil. Satan attempted to get Jesus to put his own needs and potential concerns above the will of His Father. He wanted Jesus to act independently of the Father. He wanted Jesus to sacrifice His secure future for the present. Jesus met Satan’s challenge by trusting His Father to do all things in His time, in His way, and with His result. Like Jesus, will you trust the father in the needs of temptation?
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Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum