First Sunday of Lent – Year A

by Fr Z. Ngwenya

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

Brothers and sisters, on Wednesday we began the season of Lent. To understand this season better we need to liken it to the period that prepares a great sporting event: for example, an important football game. The period before this match is a time similar to Lent because you are called to train better, to devote a longer time to preparation, to be super-concentrated to listen to all the tips that are offered to you by the coaches … but it is a time that also serves to understand why you made some mistakes in order to avoid doing them again. Only in this way can you compete well and hope to win. Lent is an intense training period that prepares us for a very important event: Easter.

The first Sunday of Lent presents Jesus in the desert, led there by the Spirit and for a very clear reason: to be tempted. In reality the Greek verb used is ekballei which literally means “to push” or “to hunt.” Jesus therefore was not invited by the Spirit to submit to temptations but literally “driven out” into the desert. It seems almost violent as an image, as if he had no choice. In fact, the temptations that Jesus experienced seem to be an obligatory passage for all of us Christians.

Who, amongst us, does not stumble daily in selfishness, craving for power, envy, delusions of omnipotence, pride? A good life lived in the light of the Gospel is not what escapes these temptations, on the contrary our own faith often subjects us forcefully into these situations. The key to understanding what Jesus offers us is instead the ability to always cling to the Word of God especially in those moments of weakness and discouragement. It is the answer to all our doubts. The Word of God is refreshment to our tired and burdened limbs. Jesus responds to the tempter who uses the Word of God to tempt him, showing that those precepts for him are not merely rules but they are a lifestyle. He has an intimate and personal relationship with the Father and does not need intermediaries because that is what the tempter wants to propose (I give you power and wealth … in the name of God). No! He and the Father are one and there is no need to ask others.

The Genesis page illuminates the drama of wrong choices in the face of good and evil, an evil that arises in the heart of man, from his choices, from his refusals, from his persistence in following his own criteria, rather than the criteria of God; it arises from the refusal to insert oneself in a project of human growth, to arrogate oneself absolute autonomy in evaluating the good and the bad. It is the claim to be like God. Eden was the state of happiness, that of love, that of the privileged relationship with God, who had created man and woman in his likeness. But love originates from freedom: freely you love, freely you accept being loved and freely you choose your own story. Adam and Eve did not trust the word of God and thus experienced the ambiguity of freedom, thinking of knowing, of knowing everything perfectly, but the result will be the awareness of being naked, that is, without the presence of God.

Saint Paul refers to the story of Genesis in his letter to the Romans (second reading), where he compares the behaviour of Adam and that of Christ and the results of their work. The rebellion and disobedience of Adam caused the separation from God and the death of all people, the perfect obedience of Christ, on the other hand, obtained the fullness of grace and life for everyone. Adam and Eve experience that their presumption has separated them from each other, from creation and from God. Jesus, on the other hand, stitches up this tear and cancels this distance. Let us therefore cling to Jesus during this Lenten season and let us avoid everything that can separate us from Him.