for the first Sunday of Lent
Gn 2:7-9 & 3:1-7 - Rm 5:12-19 - Mt 4:1-11
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
Temptation and Sin
This new series, unlike the previous ones, will have as its goal to offer, to the extent possible, a uniform commentary on the three readings proposed each Sunday in the Missal that issued from the liturgical reform of the Council of Vatican II.
These new homilies will not be longer than the previous ones. Far from offering a complete commentary on each reading, I will discuss only part of each reading, dealing with but a single subject that is common to all three readings. This subject will be announced in the title of the homily.
Let us recall, with the General Introduction to the Lectionary, that "the Old Testament texts were chosen mainly because of their correlation with New Testament texts read in the same Mass, and particularly with the Gospel text (this is always the case during Ordinary Time)" (GIL, n. 67). In other words, the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, declares, in a general manner, the theme that will be developed in the Sunday Gospel. "The New Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old Testament comes fully to light in the New." (ibid. n. 5)
Gn 3:1, Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, «Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?» 2, And the woman said to the serpent, «We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'» 4, But the serpent said to the woman, «You will not die. 5, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.» 6, So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7, Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
Rm 5:12, 15-16, 18-19
Rm 5:12, Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned... 15, But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16, And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 18, Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19, For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.
Mt 4:1, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2, And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3, And the tempter came and said to him, «If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.» 4, But he answered, «It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'» 5, Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6, and said to him, «If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'» 7, Jesus said to him, «Again it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'» 8, Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9, and he said to him, «All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.» 10, Then Jesus said to him, «Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'» 11, Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
In the garden of Eden, that is to say the terrestrial Paradise, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, were tempted by the devil - the serpent - and, following this temptation which they did not resist, they sinned against God. Some time later, in the desert, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, Mediator and Redeemer of every man and woman, was tempted by the devil, and he resisted every temptation, no matter which, for he is all-powerful by nature, being God and the Son of God. At the same time, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and thus the Mother of God and our Mediatrix before Christ Mediator, never committed any sin at all, for, being full of grace and Immaculate in her Conception, she had given herself entirely to God from the first instant of her existence.
In addition to the cases I have just enumerated, there is also our own. Sometimes, or often, we are tempted. Sometimes, or often, we resist; or we succumb to temptation, and we sin. Why do we succumb to temptation? Principally for two reasons. The first is that we do not look behind us. I mean that we do not think of our past. We do not think that we were conceived as sinners and that we are still such in a certain way, bearing in us, not the sin of Adam and Eve from which we have been purified by baptism, but rather its traces and consequences. The second is that we do not look ahead. That is to say we do not think, or we do not think enough, about God, about Christ, about Mary and all the saints of Heaven, who wait for us, and who above all wait for us to pray to them, in order that, through this humble and confident prayer, the Lord might grant us his all-powerful grace.
Sometimes we look back, sometimes we look ahead. But not always in a balanced way. It is by keeping to a just mean, by keeping a good balance between extremes, that we can live a holy life, while resisting temptations when they appear. In other words, the virtue of prudence must be the foundation and the basis for all moral life. This is the view of Saint Thomas Aquinas. It is also what Saint Ignatius of Loyola teaches in his Spiritual Exercises, in which he writes: "The things of the earth are created for the sake of man and to help him in the pursuit of the end that God has given him when creating him. From this it follows that he must make use of them insofar as they lead him towards his end, and that he must free himself from them insofar as they divert him from it."
It is not difficult to see, in the case of Adam and Eve, that the just mean, equilibrium, and prudence were not observed by the protagonists. On the contrary, Jesus, each time he was faced with temptation, restored the balance that the devil was trying to make him destroy. Indeed, in the terrestrial Paradise, the Lord had planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, along with the tree of life, in the middle of the garden (cf. Gn 2:9). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, having been planted in the middle of the garden, therefore necessarily relates to this balance, to this just mean that we must preserve in life. But why would the fact of eating the fruit of this tree break that balance? Quite simply because God had pronounced a word of interdiction, a word which Adam and Eve should have obeyed. Now, as God created man in his image and likeness, Adam and Eve should have obeyed God, not only by not eating the forbidden fruit, but also by expressing their obedience through their own word. But how can we speak when our mouth is full, full of the forbidden fruit?
As for Jesus being tempted by the devil, we see that the Lord replies to each temptation by using the very Word of God, that Word that he himself is: Matt 4:4, Jesus answered, «It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' (Deut. 8:3)» Matt 4:7, Jesus said to him, «Again it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.' (Deut. 6:16).» Matt 4:10: «Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.' (Deut. 6:13)» Jesus' mouth was not full: he was tempted, but he did not sin. As is his custom, Jesus pronounces "words of grace" (Lk 4:22).
Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession and mediation of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary! Through her prayer, may we receive from the Lord Jesus the grace of eating the Word of God during today's Eucharistic communion!