5 March 2017: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17 Rom 5:12-19 Mt 4:1-11

Lent: testing, estrangement, reconciliation

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize and to reject temptations that might subvert discipleship. For RCIA participants preparing to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil, Lent is a time of special rites and prayers.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of humans’ estrangement from God. Our alienation begins in Genesis, but our full reconciliation concludes only with Jesus’ transformative death and resurrection. Today’s second reading contrasts and completes the story.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s disobedience (today’s first reading) with Christ’s redemptive mystery. Adam’s transgression brings death into the world and to all humans. But God’s grace and Christ’s obedient act (the cross) are greater than Adam’s transgression. Where Adam’s disobedience brought all humans condemnation, God’s freely given, overflowing grace brought all humans righteousness.

Matthew’s gospel described Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness. The Greek word πειράζω (pih-RAHd-zoh) means not only “to test to discover someone’s nature or character,” but also “to try to entrap” as well as “to entice to improper behavior.” Satan’s three tests are as follows:

  • Turn stones to bread. God’s chosen people suffered hunger in the wilderness (Num 11:5-20). Satan tests the hungry Jesus with bread, but his test is really about Jesus as messiah. Food in abundance is a sign of the messianic kingdom. If Jesus uses divine power to satisfy his own hunger, he compromises himself and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 8:3.
  • Throw yourself down from the temple. God’s chosen people demanded proof of God’s presence and protection at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Satan begins his second test with a scripture quote about God’s protection (Ps 91:11-12), but his test is really about Jesus as obedient son and messiah. Jesus’ public show of power would announce his messiahship to all present. If Jesus uses God’s protection to show his messianic power, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion,responding with Dt 6:16.
  • Earthly power if you worship me. God’s chosen people worshiped a false god when they lost faith in God. In the third test, Satan drops all pretenses and subtlety. He offers Jesus a shortcut to the messianic kingdom without the cross’ humiliation, suffering, and death. If Jesus chooses to establish a political kingdom and this world’s false gods over God’s plan, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 5:7-9.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on human limitations and God’s powerful grace and presence.Rather than use divine power to overcome Satan, Jesus faced the devil’s tests in a human way, in full solidarity with humanity. Jesus shows us that we, too, can overcome traps and temptations. Knowing scripture and committing to live scripture’s message are powerful weapons against the world’s enticements. Do we use God’s word and sacraments when we are tested?

—Terence Sherlock

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