40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II First Sunday of Lent-A, 26 February 2023 Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 + Romans 5:12, 17-19 + Matthew 4:1-11
Lent is the season we fix our eyes to see clearly our selves, God, and others. It is the season where the dictum is “less is more” with no flowers allowed at the altar, only plants and leaves used as decorations. Ideally, images and icons inside the church are covered during these forty days when the Gloria and the Alleluia are also omitted in the liturgy because Lent invites us to look more inside our hearts than outside to find God.
Today’s first reading reminds us the problem with our eyes that lead us to falling into sin like the first woman who was tempted by the serpent into believing that eating the forbidden fruit would open her eyes to know what is good and evil like God. See the interplay of how the fruit was pleasing to the eyes and after they have fallen into the trap of the devil, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked” (cf. Gen. 3:4-7).
A big part of our temptations to sin happens in how we “see” things, literally and figuratively speaking. In the wilderness during the temptations of Jesus, the devil showed us what he often “sees” that if we follow could lead us into sin. Let us see what Jesus “saw” during those moments of temptations and triumphed over evil.
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.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”Matthew 4:1-4
First temptation of the devil is for us to see scarcity, to see nothing, to see too little, to see there are not enough that the tendency is for us to hoard and be selfish. But Jesus tells us today even in the barrenness of the wilderness where there was no food nor water, there is always plenty and abundance when we see God.
When we were in elementary school, we were told how food and water would run out in the future with worldwide hunger and thirst happening in apocalyptic proportions. It had never happened. Yes, our natural resources are depleting not because of our normal consumption but largely because of human greed. We see everything so few, not enough for everyone that our tendency is to get more, driving prices up with the poor left to fend for themselves of whatever is left behind.
What we see more is what we do not have, not seeing the beautiful and precious ones we have like family and friends, health and life itself as well as faith in God. There is always the temptation most especially in the midst of difficulties and trials to see everything as ugly and dismal like the first parents after the fall when “they realized they were naked” whereas before, “they felt no shame” because they were good.
Observe how the eyes and the mind are closely intertwined, of how wrong judgments result when our eyes are deceived by what we see or do not see. Look inside your heart when you feel like alone and abandoned or when in the wilderness of sickness and sufferings. See God in everything even in nothingness by reading and praying his words in the Sacred Scriptures and you shall find life and abundance.
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: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”Matthew 4:5-7
Second temptation is when see more of power and entitlement that lead us to becoming like gods.
See the deception of the devil as he brought Jesus to the temple, the house of his Father, making him stand on the parapet to test his obedience and submission to God. It continues to happen to us these days, especially for us priests and bishops, those inside the church like its volunteers and servants, or those who see themselves as devout and pious Catholics who feel entitled here on earth and even in heaven!
No one, not even Jesus Christ claimed any entitlement for being the Son of God. In fact, in his being the Christ, he taught us the importance of submission and obedience always to the will of God our Father.
The first sin was not just pride and disobedience of Adam and Eve. It was a sin rooted in the heart, of feeling so special in paradise, daring to be like God. A feeling of entitlement, of manipulation and control to play like God.
The second temptation of Christ reminds us all supposed to be close to God, his servants to always look and examine our hearts if it is truly God whom we love and follow or just rules and commandments, rites and rituals that we forget the people we are supposed to lovingly serve and care for.
The sad reality in our church is how the devil’s temptation of Jesus is realized among us priests who are being served wrongly, even adored and worshipped by the many people so deceived of the temptation to get close to clergymen or the church. This is the reason why the poor and sufferings are still marginalized because they have remained outside our reach as we all tend to see ourselves being protected by the angels in our positions of power.
Let us all get down from our ivory towers of power, of pride and entitlement especially in the church to begin seeing the poor people on the ground and stop testing God if he would work miracles on them lest we have forgotten we are his arms and limbs.
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”Matthew 4:8-10
Third temptation is clearly idolatry, of self-worship, of vanity. See how Jesus told Satan to get away after this third temptation because this is the most insidious as far as Matthew is concerned (in Luke’s version, this is the second temptation).
This third temptation is also very surreptitious which Al Pacino as the devil described in “The Devil’s Advocate” opposite Keanu Reeves as “my most favorite sin.”
We may not be kneeling before strange gods and idols but as Simon & Garfunkel sang in the “Sound of Silence”, so many of us “bowed and prayed on the neon gods we made” with our obsession with signature and expensive things and gadgets, whether original or fake.
It is also the temptation of being famous with our obsession not only with all the beauty augmentations readily available and the fitness craze of some who practically live inside gyms but also with too much living in social media where some have gone crazy counting the likes and reactions they receive in their posts.
See how Jesus won against Satan in all his temptations including in this final one because his focus was on God alone. Jesus is telling us this Sunday as we embark on our Lenten journey to remain in God above all.
Our eyes can be easily deceived because they cannot see everything at one instance. It takes times for us to recognize what or who we are looking at. There are times we need to use instruments to see everything clearly like telescopes and microscopes.
Most of all, what we see may not even be true at all. That is why we have to close our eyes in order to see better, to experience better and understand better like when we are deeply in pain and sorrow or in ecstasy and bursting with joy.
How sad that when Adam and Eve sinned and their eyes were opened, they hid themselves and sewed figs to cover themselves. Today, people go out into the open, even taking pride and not troubled at all in filming or recording and uploading sinful scenes in their lives. And everyone is so glad to take a look on them without realizing how it could lead them into shame like Adam Eve.
Let us heed St. Paul’s invitation in the second reading to live in Jesus so we may show our new humanity in Christ, we who are so loved and forgiven by God and restored to grace. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus alone to fight temptations for we are no longer slaves to our passions and desires like Adam (Rom. 5:12, 17-19). Amen. Have a blessed first week in Lent!