Today is the first Sunday of the great penitential season of Lent. A few days ago we observed Ash Wednesday where we were marked with ashes as a sign of repentance, and we embraced fasting and abstinence in preparation for our 40 day journey to Holy Week and Easter. These 40 days of prayer, penance, and charity are symbolic of the 40 days Our Lord spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry. At that time, he fasted and was tempted by the devil. Following in his footsteps, we embrace fasting and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat.
Our first reading recounts another one of Satan’s temptations. It is the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their disastrous meeting with the devil. But in the beginning it was not so. After creating man, God places him in a garden, a land rich with abundant food, trees, and life, all of which are to be enjoyed and used according to God’s design. God gift’s mankind with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). Out of his goodness, God gives man permission to enjoy all the good things creation has to offer. His only command is not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We often get hung up on this restriction, forgetting all the good things we are allowed to enjoy. To be clear, God is not trying to suppress human knowledge or keep us in slavish bondage to his arbitrary commandments. God is Goodness itself, Truth itself, and Beauty itself. Knowledge of good and evil belong to him, and him alone.
Enter the serpent, the craftiest of all beasts. The serpent tries to usurp the divine prerogative of knowledge of good and evil, and he does so in a cunning and conniving way. He tempts Eve with a half-truth, something plausible enough to be believed, but which is ultimately an empty lie. “Did God say, ‘you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” the serpent asks Eve (Gen 3:1). NO! That is not what God said. Nevertheless, his plan succeeds, and Eve and Adam eat of the forbidden tree. They take the knowledge of good and evil into their own hands. They make their own ideas of right and wrong into their own personal Truth.
Our age is not so different. Relativism and individualism have made it so that everyone’s own opinion is his or her own truth. Whatever I want to be true is True for me, and whatever you want to be true is True for you. When we decide for ourselves what is true, what is good and evil, what is right and wrong, we only increase suffering, sow confusion, and detach ourselves from reality. Rather, when we follow God – Truth itself – who has ordered his creation according to his goodness, and who only wants good things for us, we become more fully alive, and more who we are meant to be. During this season of Lent, let us refocus and turn ourselves back towards God’s Truth. May his kingdom come, and his will be done.
In the Gospel, we have a similar story, this time with Jesus being tempted. Unlike Adam and Eve, he prevails over the devil. Notice again how the devil uses half-truths, especially when quoting the Scriptures. Satan quotes Psalm 91:11 to try to tempt Jesus to test God. He accurately quotes the Psalm, but misconstrues the meaning. Psalm 91 is all about faithfully trusting God, but Satan makes it seem like it is about putting God to the test. Let this be a reminder to us that not everyone who quotes the Scriptures does so with pure motives or correct interpretation. Thanks be to God for his gift of Tradition and the Church’s magisterium, who is authoritatively led by the Holy Spirit to interpret God’s word correctly and fruitfully. Returning to the Gospel, we see Our Lord catch the devil’s trick and rebuke him with a correctly interpreted verse from Deuteronomy: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Mt 4:7).
The Lord Jesus is trustworthy and does not lead us astray as the devil is so wont to do. Therefore, at the beginning of the Lenten season, let us recommit ourselves to the Lord’s teaching. Let us retreat into a deserted place and draw near to him so as to learn from his wisdom. Let us shut out the world and willingly embrace prayer, fasting, and charity, so that by the Lord’s gently guidance we might be made ready to enter the garden of life he has prepared for us.
Kevin Ponte – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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