40 Shades of Lent, Sunday Week I-A, 01 March 2020
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 +++ Romans 5:12-19 +++ Matthew 4:1-11
Lent has always been associated with the Sacrament of Baptism since the beginning of the Church. In fact our Sunday readings this 2020 (Cycle A) are among the oldest in our liturgy used in the preparation of candidates or catechumens to Baptism on Easter Vigil.
This intimate link between Lent and Baptism is very evident in our synoptic gospels as Matthew, Mark, and Luke present to us how after Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan River, his temptations by the devil in the desert immediately comes next.
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”Matthew 4:1-3
The Season of Lent and the Sacrament of Baptism
Let us go back a little to that Baptism scene of Jesus at Jordan so we can understand this link between Lent and Baptism as well as to appreciate the meaning of our celebration this first Sunday of Lent.
It was during his Baptism at Jordan when the Father formally launched and made known the mission of Jesus as the Christ or the “Anointed One” of God, that is, the Messiah in Hebrew or Christo in Greek from which we derived the word Christ in English.
As a prefiguration of his coming Pasch – Passion, Death, and Resurrection – Jesus Christ’s Baptism became his “investiture” or “commissioning” when the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).
In his Baptism, Jesus entered into solidarity with us sinners when he plunged into Jordan River to be one with us in everything except sin. It is here we find very clear the intimate link of Baptism with Lent when we are called to be faithful children of God like Jesus Christ
An anatomy of temptation and sin
Every temptation by the devil, every sin is always a turning away from God, a deviation from our identity as children of the Father in Jesus Christ.
Whenever we would wake up, the Father reminds us like at the Baptism of Jesus at Jordan that we are his beloved son or daughter with whom he is well pleased despite our many sins, failures, and weaknesses.
And like Jesus Christ right after his Baptism at Jordan, the devil also comes every day to tempt us to turn away from the Father, echoing to us his same words in the desert with the Lord, “If you are the Son of God” to lure us into becoming someone we are not.
The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written…”Matthew 4:3-6
See this pattern of the devil in his first two temptations, “If you are the Son of God” – very enticing to be somebody else, to prove one’s worth and being.
This pattern will significantly change at the third temptation when the devil took Jesus to a high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence. No more “If you are the Son of God” but a more direct temptation that is affront and “garapal” as we say in Filipino:
“All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”Matthew 4:9
Observe how cunning was the devil in his temptations of Jesus until finally, he brings out his sinister plot: worship him, turn away from God!
The same is true with us: the devil will lure and deceive us in so many ways with just one objective which is for us to turn away from God. In every temptation, in every sin, the issue has always been the primacy of God which Jesus Christ firmly affirmed in his triumph over the devil’s temptations at the desert.
And this issue on the primacy of God is always attacked by the devil in every temptation when he confuses us on who we really are like the woman in the first reading after the serpent had told her that she would be like God:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its frit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.Genesis 3:6-7
Do we not feel the same way after every sin? We feel naked – ugly, dirty, and alienated from our very selves precisely because we have not become our true selves!
These temptations of Jesus by the devil would persist up to his crucifixion where some people jeered and taunted him, telling him “if you are the Son of God” or “if you are the Messiah” so that he would turn away from the Father and forget all about his mission and Divine plan of salvation.
Notice that the last temptation of Jesus is exactly our last temptation too: abandon God the Father and simply be like the devil, with no dignity, with nothing at all because he is separated from God, our only grounding of being.
Hubris, our greatest temptation and sin
Last Sunday we have mentioned how the Greeks have always held that man’s first and greatest temptation and sin is hubris – that is, the arrogant presumption of man that he is god, or that he can defy the divine to do everything and have anything.
We call it pride which is at the very core of every temptation and sin. The director of the classic film “Ten Commandments”, Mr. Cecil de Mille was once asked which of the Lord’s commandments is most often violated by man?
According to Mr. De Mille, it is the first commandment of God that we always violate because whenever we sin, that is when we also have another false god or idol aside from the true God.
Our problem in the world is not really hunger or war or poverty but our refusal to be faithful to God, to be who we really are as his blessed sons and daughters. In some instances, there are some who have totally rejected and denied God, believing more in themselves, in the sciences and technologies.
Jesus is not indifferent to hunger or wars still going on in many parts of the world today; he had come to show us the path to our problems is to reclaim our being children of the Father, listening and living his words, worshiping and trusting him alone.
In going through his Pasch, in fighting all temptations, Jesus shows us the path to see and experience the God we can meet when we come to our desert where we rely only in him alone. It involves hard work, without any shortcut and quick fixes or instants that have become our norm these days.
It is not a simplistic approach to the many problems we are facing, but if you read the newspapers or watch the news, we see how humanity is still in solidarity with Adam, with sin, with the material world as St. Paul explained in the second reading.
On this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded anew of our identity as beloved children of the Father in Jesus Christ who showers us with every grace and blessing that we need. Let us live in him, trust in him, hold on to him to experience life anew.
Let us give Jesus a chance to work in us, rise with him to our being beloved children of the Father! Amen.