HOMILY FOR FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR A. Readings: Genesis 2:7-9.3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19 and Matthew 4:1-11.

Today the church celebrates the first Sunday of lent, a new liturgical season that began with Ash Wednesday. Lent commemorates the forty days Christ spent in the desert immediately after his baptism. It is a great moment of retreat for the Church as a whole and as individuals. The liturgy of today contrast two responses to temptation, that is the temptation of our first parents (Adam and Eve) and the temptation of Christ. In this we take to cognizance the infidelity of man and the fidelity of God.

The first reading presents to us the temptation event at the garden of Eden, at the second account of the creation story, which says, “The Lord formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils, the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7). With this Divine breath, man became a living being. The word “Breath” in Hebrew, “Ruah,” in Greek ‘Pneuma’ and in Latin ‘Spiritus’ gives an indication of the Spirit. Invariably, God created man by putting His breath, His Spirit, within him. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. Man was specially created by God, breathing some of his own breath into man.

After the creation event came the temptation of man by the Satan in form of a Serpent. The representation of Satan as the Serpent makes the idea of Moses saving Israel by lifting a bronze Serpent all more provocative (Num. 21:8-9), especially when Christ identifies Himself with that very Serpent (John 3:14). This is because, in this picture, the Serpent (a personification of sin and rebellion) is made of bronze (a mental associated with judgment, since it is made of fire). The lifting up of a bronze serpent is the lifting up of sin judged, in the form of a cross. Also, “The Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). While the tree of knowledge and good stands for sin, the tree of life seems to be symbolic of the cross that Christ was crucified, of which shall culminate the season of Lent.

With the conversation between the serpent and the woman, the serpent set the stage for deception and deliberate misinterpretation of God’s commands. The serpent tempted the woman to correct him and she was tempted to correct the misinterpretation. Once she engages in dialogue with the serpent, she finds herself on a slippery slope where the serpent is in control. Little wonder some men would not want to expose their women to unhealthy conversation which may likely throw them off balance. It is also a lesson for men not to leave their women alone especially in the rise of quarrel or disagreement. Where was Adam when Eve was being tempted? The moment you leave your woman alone; you create room for the serpent (other men) to have conversation with her. We can imagine the outcome of such conversations especially with women that are so vulnerable. It is not a room to police your woman and give her no breathing space or room of responsibility. Also, this is not an excuse for a woman to give attention to the serpent or any tempter because of slight provocation or quarrel with your partner. Moments of disputes among spouses or friends are moments of temptation, of which, we must be ready at all time. We can also perceive a problem of communication in the temptation story. Could it be that Adam did not properly communicate God’s message to Eve, which must have led her to doubt and eventually fall to the temptation of the serpent? Hence, the reading communicates to us the essence of communication in every relationship or friendship. Proper communication eliminates doubts and will certainly reduce problems.

The woman eventually fell into the temptation of the serpent by eating from the forbidden tree and she gave the fruit to her husband. The tree of life seems to be symbolic of the cross that Christ was crucified. In Galatians we find, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, for it is written “Curse is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Gal 3:13). The tree is a reference to redemption and as St. Paul says in the second reading, “As sin came into this world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned, sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law” (Rom 5:12). It became sin of disobedience after God had given Adam a law and he did otherwise. Further, St. Paul says, “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more are the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of God that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:…). In essence, the infidelity of one man brought sin and death and the fidelity of one man, the person of Jesus Christ, brought about life and righteousness. Put differently, by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.

Contrary to the temptation narrative in the first reading, Christ resisted the temptation of the Devil and preferred to do only what the Father requires of him as seen in the gospel periscope of today. The gospel tells us, “He was led by the Spirit” (Mt. 4:1). In Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit, recalling that Pneuma in Greek means breath), Christ never worked alone in his mission, he worked with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Beginning from his conception, at the annunciation of the Angel’s message to Mary, she conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit; before Christ’ public ministry, at Baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him in form of a dove, in today’s reading, “He is led by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” (v.1), and so we begin the first Sunday of Lent with the temptation of Jesus Christ, and during his public ministry, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. At the end of the season, he will give up the Holy Spirit on the cross, when he will say, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30), the price that ransomed us from the sin of the first man.

As we reflect on the temptations of our first parents and the temptation of Christ, the liturgy also calls us to reflect on our own temptations we encounter daily. Many have fallen into temptation because we allow the Devil to use and tempt us in various ways, mostly when we are in need. The Devil does not tempt us with what he knows is our strength, he tempts us with what he knows is our weakness and the things we so much desire. When we are in need of money, he tempts and lures us into stealing. When we are given power or authority, he tempts us with the abuse of power. When in relationship, he tempts us with seduction and fornication, and other related sins. We are urged never to walk alone, but open our hearts for the Holy Spirit to lead us this season of Lent, also known as the season of grace. By so doing, we shall overcome all the antics of the Devil. Let us enjoy the season and not endure the season. Have a fruitful Lenten Season.

Happy Sunday!

Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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