Theme for the first Sunday of Lent, 1 March 2020

Scripture for this Sunday:
Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5.12-19; Matthew 4.1-11

The Tree of Paradise; Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France

This year’s Lenten study series at Santa Margarita, based around parts of Les Miserables, deals with questions of sin, judgement, reconciliation and redemption, ostensibly through the lens of how human beings treat one another, and how they apply their faith in that treatment.

In the book of Genesis, the account of what we might call ‘original temptation’ shows that given the gift of choice and free will, humans will not always use it well. An act of disobedience, and the attempted ‘cover-up’ by Adam and Eve, lead to a sort of vicious circle wherein instead of seeing themselves as gods, they see themselves as imperfect, and the flawed decision to listen to the serpent accentuates that.

The consequence is that the lies of the serpent are exposed; death might not have come immediately, but it followed. To try to emulate God means to devalue and destroy our own humanity. So Adam and Eve are sent into the wilderness.

Much later, that same wilderness has a different occupant, one who also has to face questions about how to use choice and free will. Jesus wants to prepare himself for his mission to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. However, the kingdom of this world encroaches into his solitude and disrupts it.

Rather than a serpent, the trials and temptations faced by Jesus are those faced by most of us: inner demons, who play upon some very basic human traits: pride, power and possession. We can find ourselves in these temptations, because we can all be beguiled by pride, power and possession(s). Nevertheless, each of them is underpinned by a lie, especially the lie that an inner demon or an external devil can satisfy our pride, our desire for power, and give us possession worth something more than God’s will.

Fortunately, Jesus shows us the way to respond to the temptations. He chooses humility, and pride in the accomplishments of God. He chooses vulnerability, and submission to the power of God. And he chooses to possess service, and the priceless will of God.

A good discipline during Lent might be to think about how we can apply the lessons of Jesus’ trials to our own temptations; how we are faced with our own inner demons and how ready we are to admit to them; how we deal with those temptations of pride, power and possession; and how our choices and free will line up with God’s open offer of reconciliation and redemption.

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