Summary: We are asked to remember who we are, and then to act out of that knowledge.
Seeds for Sowing, Vol. VI, Issue 2, No. 13
First Sunday of Lent- Year A
February 17, 2002
* Gen. 2:7-9, 16-18, 25; 3:1-7
* Rom. 5:12-19
* Mt. 4:1-11
Getting to the Bottom of it All
What to do?
Once again, we find ourselves at the beginning of the Lenten season. And perhaps we are still wondering what we should be doing during this time of renewal -- is it time once again to try to kick the smoking habit, or are we going to try to keep ourselves at a safe distance from all those lovely donuts and cakes that seem to give us so much pleasure? Or maybe we think that besides just giving up things, we should be doing something -- like being extra kind to our husband or wife, or going out of our way to provide some kind of help for those who could use a hand.
Commendable as those and other actions may be, today’s readings point out the deeper meaning of this season. And perhaps by looking at the basic lesson taught by the scriptures we can get a better idea of what we should be about for the next forty days.
In both the reading from Genesis and from the Gospel we are presented with temptation stories. But our temptation might be to see these stories in a rather shallow way. Most of us think that if there is one thing we know about in life, it’s temptation. Isn’t it all around us, all the time? Modern means of communication have not only brought great improvements in how we live, they have also brought temptation to our very doorsteps or computer screens. We hardly need our own imaginations any more to bring temptation to us; so many others are willing to do that work for us, offering us everything from too much liquor to far too much flesh.
But if we stopped our thinking about temptation only there, we would have still missed the basic temptation. It is true that temptation can take the form of gluttony or lust or avarice. But our Scriptures point to the root temptation.
A Question of Identity
In the story we heard today, the first man and woman were warned not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the punishment for doing so would be death. But "the serpent said to the woman, ’No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ " The basic temptation was not to disobedience, but to deny who they were. The man and woman were not God. They were created by God and in complete dependence on God, and now they wanted out of that relationship. That was the temptation and that was the sin. The deepest temptation is not the urge to misbehave, to do what we know we shouldn’t do, but rather the call to compromise our basic identity -- to be whom we are not called to be.
And so the story of Jesus’ temptation has the same theme. The devil picks away, then, at Jesus’ sonship, at his baptismal identity. The three temptations -- to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the top of the temple and to worship the tempter -- they are, at their root, invitations to be somebody else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God.
In the midst of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, one of the most respected voices for racial harmony and human dignity was that of Bishop Desmond Tutu. But even the closest colleagues of Tutu were sometimes distressed by the bishop’s tolerance and moderation. They wished he would be more aggressive with his opponents. One of them said, "At his age you’d think he would have learned to hate a little more. But there is this problem with Tutu: he believes literally in the gospel." What he was saying, in effect, is that Bishop Tutu knows who he is; he remembers he is a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ.
What to do During Lent?
Lent is a time for us to renew our identity as Christians. During this Lenten season thousands of catechumens throughout the world are preparing for their Baptism at Easter -- preparing to take on a new identity. For those of us who are already Baptized, our task is to renew our identity as Christians. The first thing we must do is examine our lives, and identify those obstacles to living out our identity as followers of Christ. We are asked to remember who we are, and to act out of that knowledge.