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1st Sunday in Lent – Year A (March 9th) E-mail
Written by Nicholas King SJ   
Saturday, 15 February 2014 16:22

•    Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
•    Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-14, 17
•    Romans 5:12-19
•    Matthew 4:1-11

Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent; it is a bit late this year, so for once you may even have been waiting impatiently for it. As always on this first Sunday, the readings invite us to face (and not run away from) the mystery of sin in our lives.

The first reading recounts in dramatic style the first sin of our parents. You know the story, for you were brought up on it in your childhood: the cunning serpent, the gullible woman and her gullible husband, the attractive fruit, and the disobedience, followed by the discovery that they were naked, and the consequent need to make loin-cloths out of fig-leaves. But there is a bit more to it than that. It may be worth noting that the Hebrew word for “cunning”, describing the serpent, comes from the same root as the word for “naked”; so eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leads to an unwelcome discovery, one that makes them ashamed. Deeper still, we should notice the very first line of our reading: “the Lord God fashioned Adam out of dust from the soil”. Here we should observe that the Hebrew word for “Adam” is connected with the word for “soil”, as we shall hear on Ash Wednesday: “you are dust, and to dust you will return”. And then the next line: “and he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being”. And the line after: “and the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the East, and planted Adam there”. So the mystery of sin is not a matter of meaningless over-regulation by an oppressive divine bureaucrat; instead, it is a matter of our deliberately choosing to ignore the blue-print offered by the one who so generously created us, and placed us into this wonderful world. If we ignore what God advises, then things will go horribly wrong.

That is the tone of the psalm for next Sunday, one that we shall be singing several times in the course of our Lenten journey. It is the Miserere, often attributed to David when he repented of his appalling behaviour, combining adultery with murder. He says what we must all say when we recognise our ungenerous response to God’s generosity: “have mercy on me, O God, in accordance with your steadfast love; in accordance with your immense compassion blot out my transgression”. Twice he uses the word “pure”: “make me pure from my sins” and “create a pure heart for me”: that sense of being clean and uncomplicated is what he longs for (as do we in our journey to Easter). The singer has a very strong sense of this mystery of sin.

In the second reading, Paul, in a very difficult and much-discussed passage, meditates on that first example of the mystery of sin: he sees it as the entry into the world of those hostile powers, Sin and Death, all because the first humans ignored the blueprint that they had been given. But (and here is the importance of the reading) the mystery of sin does not mean that God has given up on us, for “God’s free gift and generosity in the grace of the one man Jesus Christ has overflowed to the many”. Jesus’ obedience is the answer to the mystery of sin, and because of God’s unfailing generosity it enormously outdoes the evil that sin causes.

The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the narrative of Jesus’ temptation; the invitation is for us to watch Jesus generously coping with the seductive invitations of the Devil, one by one. The three temptations taken together show the arsenal of weapons that sin’s mystery uses to entrap us. The first one is to use his talents to do some magic: “turn these stones into loaves of bread”. Jesus’ reply is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, Israel’s “mission-statement”: “humanity doesn’t just live by bread, but on every word that comes forth from God’s mouth”. That takes us back to the beginning of our first reading, and the discovery that “God fashioned humanity from the dust”. The second temptation (in Matthew, anyway; Luke has a different order) takes place on the pinnacle of the Temple: “fling yourself down”; and this time the Devil quotes Scripture (a psalm, on this occasion) as back-up. Jesus responds by returning to Deuteronomy, “You are not to tempt the Lord your God”. Finally, and of course this would have been fatal to Jesus’ mission, Jesus is taken to a “very high mountain” and shown “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory thereof”. Then he is told “I’m going to give you all of this. All you have to do is fall down and worship me”. Once again, Jesus knows who he is and what he is to do: “Go away, Satan. For it is written, ‘The Lord your God you shall worship, and God alone are you to adore’. ”

That marks the end of the temptations for Jesus; “the devil left him, and look! The angels came and served him”. But what of you? How is your life at the moment involved in the mystery of sin? How will you listen to God over the next six weeks, in order to make your life what it could be, in the eyes of the one who created it?