The Catholic Liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent, Gospel – Matthew 4:1-11. Theme: The Problem & The Solution
The great scientist, Albert Einstein, was once asked what he would do if he had just one hour to solve a difficult situation. He replied: “I would spend 55 minutes getting to know the problem, and then I would need just 5 minutes to come up with the solution.” In other words, if we don’t have an accurate handle on what’s wrong, we cannot come up with an effective way to fix it. And I think that is what today’s readings are telling us as we confront the reality of sin and evil in the world and within our own lives.
So, the first thing to do, following Einstein’s advice, is to name the problem and discover where it comes from. We find the key to this in our first reading from the Book of Genesis. In the age-old story of Adam and Eve we discover that the origin of the problem is found right within us, within the human person. Like those first humans, we so foolishly choose to live life on our own terms in opposition to plan of God our Creator. We are often so very convinced that we know what is best for ourselves. Fundamentally, our problem is the misuse of free-will, of the power our Creator gave us to choose good and avoid evil.
God created us in his image which is love and as we all know, love is a choice that must be embraced freely. Sadly, those first humans did not chose love but chose selfishness instead. By doing so they caused a rupture in their relationships with God, with each other and even within themselves as individuals. We call this triple rupture the effects of original sin and it is passed on to all of us, their descendants, generation after generation.
And so, we find ourselves today in the predicament of wanting to do what is good yet so often failing to carry it out, no matter how well intentioned we might be. We find ourselves failing to love God, others and ourselves as we should. In the words of the Bible, we find ourselves committing sin. And no matter how hard we try, we human beings cannot fix ourselves.
We spend billions of dollars trying to fix ourselves and so often we mistakenly focus on the outside, thinking that’s where the problem resides. Maybe if I look better, if I dress better, if I have a better job, if I move to a different place…And yet are we any happier inside ourselves? Are we free from broken hearts and relationships? No, we are not! Because the problem is spiritual and is rooted in a wounded human nature that cannot fix itself.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells us that the solution to this problem is found in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Just as only God created the human person, so only God can recreate us and make us new again from the inside out. And that’s exactly what he did by becoming one of us in all things except sin. By his becoming man, Jesus was able to embrace and experience all aspects of human life from womb to tomb, transforming them with his divine presence and inviting us to follow him and experience a total transformation.
In today’s Gospel, we see that Jesus, like Adam and Eve, encounters Satan, the enemy of the human race, who instigated our fall right from the beginning. Satan tries to do to Jesus exactly what he did to Adam and Eve and what he and his minion demons try to do to each one of us. This Father of Lies cleverly ties to convince us that we know what is best for us and that God – with all his commandments – is nothing but a tyrant, a spiritual bully. But he fails and Jesus triumphs in the name of us all.
So, I think the million-dollar question is this: what do we have to do to share in this victory of Jesus? How do we connect the dots and plug ourselves into his heart-changing, life-transforming rescue and restore mission? Fortunately for us, Jesus himself as given us the answer in his responses to Satan’s temptations.
Jesus proclaims: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He shows us that in order to share in his victory over sin and selfishness we must turn prayer, especially reading and pondering the Scriptures. We need to feed our souls daily on the spiritual food of the Word of God.
Jesus says to us: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We must work on building up a relationship of trust in God, convinced that he really does only want what is best and good for us. We can to this by rejecting the devil’s lies that God is a tyrant, out to ruin our fun and restrict our freedom. Because fundamentally, that’s the deception that is behind every temptation.
Finally, Jesus reminds us: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” We have to be faithful to our baptismal call to be a people of worship because worship reminds us that God is, well… God…and we aren’t! This is why we gather for Mass every Sunday so that true worship may be offered to the Father through his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, and so that the Son can strengthen us by the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
And so, let’s remember that, having done all that he can do on his part, we need to also do our part and ask Jesus for the grace to participate in his victory over Satan, temptation and sin and make it real in our everyday lives.