HOMILY & IDEAS

Gen 2:7-9. 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11.

The readings for this particular weekend are perhaps some of the most sensibly connected biblical texts that have ever been grouped together in the lectionary. The two themes in these readings that ring out loud and clear are Sin and Temptation. Perhaps these themes are most appropriate for this first Sunday of Lent as we begin our Lenten observances.

That is, perhaps the timing is right to encourage and inspire the faithful to get tough and aggressive with whatever sins they may be facing in their lives. Just as one logically plans a picnic outing or begins to build a house, on the road to holiness there are always some logical preparations to be made before one takes the inaugural step. What better time is there to inspire and equip the faithful to start this journey? With what better readings are there to break open this topic of sin and temptation?

Everyone faces (battle is probably a better word) sin and temptation. No one who ever lived on the earth was exempt from this day to day challenge. Even if one is sinless (Jesus, Mary), the fact of facing the temptation of sin remains. What is the importance of this point? Simply this: We who are in this church at this very moment are all sinners. We all need help battling sin. We all want to live a life that is less sinful than the day before.

Perhaps a way to bring this point out is to enter into the first reading in the following way: We are all in every character in the first reading. The purpose of the first reading is not to assign blame. We can easily get caught in a literary-critical circle where we wonder why the serpent was even allowed to exist in the Garden of Eden where all things were presumably paradisiacal. We wonder why God would have allow such simple innocents as Adam and Eve to be tempted? We wonder who is to blame? Adam can blame Eve for handing him the apple. Eve can blame the serpent for tempting her. The serpent can blame God for allowing him to exist and to tempt such unsophisticated innocents.

Perhaps a better way to enter into this story is to consider that we are all like each character in this story. Like Adam we have entered into sin by simply following the behavior of another. No deep thought processes, no moral deliberations, no profound pauses. We simply have followed another blindly.

Like Eve we have faced temptations. We have entered into a conversation in our minds about right and wrong and we have rationalized our decision to sin by pretending to find some good in it -- some advantage in it -- some power in it.

Like the serpent we have seduced others into sinning. Whether we were kids on a playground who taught a younger kid a profane word or gesture or whether we were adults who tipped off a coworker about how to cut a corner or how to cheat an employer or a competitor, we can all find moments in our pasts where we have caused another to sin -- especially someone younger, someone less educated, someone less worldly.

We also may consider the absurdity of sin. That is, we have all felt like St. Paul who writes -- I do not understand my own actions. For the very thing that I do not want to do, I do, and the very thing I DO want to do, I do not do.

What person in our Church on Sunday has escaped this kind of absurdity operating in their life?

The readings from St. Paul and in the Gospel of Matthew begin to tell us of a way out of habitual and chronic sin. We may never be completely free from sin; however we should always be aware of the tools available to us that can lessen the grip that sin can have on us.

In the Gospel we have an example of how to face temptations. These temptations represent important categories to consider in our own lives. The first temptation is to provide more comfort to ourselves than we reasonably need or choose to have. Jesus chose to fast for forty days and forty nights by his own free will and it is the devil who tempts him to break this fast. It may seem silly to us to equate Jesus eating a bit of bread in the middle of his fast as overindulgence, but in the strict sense of this word that is what Jesus would be doing. Jesus would be taking for himself more than he sees reasonably fit to take at a particular time in a particular place in his personal history.

We have all overindulged.

We are both temporal and spiritual beings and Jesus reminds us that there is a balance between these things. How many times have we caught ourselves trying to fill a deep need for comfort and intimacy with things that will never satisfy? Food, Drink, Sex, Exercise, Clothes, Cars, Houses, Drugs, etc.

Balance is required. Moral behavior is required. And, a strong dependence upon God is required the most.

The second temptation involves putting oneself in a situation to see how far one can go with God. Here an individual puts himself in a situation that is deliberately threatening and then he expects to be rescued by God. Risk taking in life may be required to fulfill the will of God, but what Jesus is being asked to do is to take a risk for his own prestige -- for his own gain -- for his own power.

Jesus simply responds -- You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

How many times have we put ourselves in dangerous situations and have relied upon the help of God to keep us out of trouble. For example, irresponsible drinking and driving, financial mismanagements, promiscuous sexual liaisons, cheating, lying, criminal behaviors.

Finally, Satan tempts Jesus with the possibility of immediately gaining immense power.

The response of Jesus is -- The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

We are lured into worshipping other gods by the promises of power and authority over others. We are lured by prestige and titles and along the way to these things we are tempted by numerous gods while we slowly lose our dependence upon the one true God.

Overindulgence, putting ourselves in dangerous and irresponsible situations, and wanting to exercise power over others are three major categories of temptations that we are faced with every day.

Jesus gives us a way out -- a way to defend ourselves and they all have to do with dependence upon God. We are not to forget God in the balance of our earthly and spiritual needs. We are not to test God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations for our own gain or pleasure. We are not to worship any other gods except the one True God.

We may never be completely sin-free if we focus all of our energies upon being completely dependent upon God, however, we are guaranteed to be tempted less.

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