First Sunday in Lent – Year A
February 26, 2023 -10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Genesis 2:7-19;3:1-7| Psalm 51:3-6;13-13;17
Romans 5:12;17-19 | Matthew 4:1-11
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Every Sunday, we sing the Our Father, known in Latin as the “Pater Noster,” and among many Christians as, “The Lord’s Prayer.” The next-to-last phrase of it is, “…and lead us not into temptation.” What, exactly, is a temptation? The First Sunday in Lent could be known as “Temptation Sunday.” Today’s readings attempt to shed light on what exactly a temptation is, and how temptations impact humankind.
Today’s readings place front and center the contrast between Jesus and Adam in salvation history. Both were human, yet they could not be more different from one another.
I have a nephew named “Adam.” However, the word, “Adam,” is not a proper noun in the sense of being the name of a person. “Adam” simply means, “man,” or, collectively, “humankind.” In creating Adam from the clay of the ground, God did not just create one person. And from Adam, God also created Eve. And thus, God created all of humanity, male and female. Keep in mind that these stories are myths whose purpose is to convey meaning, not actual historical events or scientific facts.
In scripture, Adam is the first prototype for humanity and thus represents all of us, not just one very first human person. In the common parlance of today, Adam is “humanity 1.0.”Jesus, however, also represents all of humanity as the second prototype for humanity. Therefore, Jesus was “humanity 2.0.” Unlike Adam, Jesus was not only fully human but fully divine as well.
The story of Adam and Eve is the story of who and what we are as human persons. One of our characteristics is free will, an inborn characteristic to do as we wish, not necessarily what God wants for us. The story of Adam and Eve proves that it’s possible to have everything you need and want, yet not be satisfied and grateful for who and what you are, and instead want more, only to find out that you must be exceedingly careful of that for which you wish.
The story of Adam and Eve shows how ambition can lead to perdition. Contrast that with the story of Jesus, which shows us how divine wisdom is superior to that of humanity. Adam and Eve took a risk by eating the forbidden fruit. Jesus was different. Rather than take the risks the Devil presented to him, Jesus relied on the words of the Torah. Jesus met the risks presented with God’s word, instead of following a gut instinct of wanting more from his life, as Adam did.
According to Saint Paul, the weakness of human nature is universal. We are born with a proclivity to sin; we participate in it; our life is tangled up in it like a web. We cannot know what actually happened way back when, yet many ancient stories tell us that things were once like paradise, but now they are irretrievably corrupt; and now we all live with a wistful vague remembrance of the “good ol’ days,” and a longing for a better future, along with current frustration and dissatisfaction. Jesus, however, offers us that better future than Adam did.
Today’s Second Reading sharply focuses our attention on the contrast between Adam’s situation in the First Reading and that of Jesus in the Gospel. The readings highlight the contrast between the human view of life and God’s view of life. In the Epistle to the Romans chapter five, from which today’s Second Reading is taken, Paul compares the effects the actions of Adam and Christ had on humanity and life and death. Adam was tempted by Satan and fell enslaved to sin, bringing sin into the world; with sin came death. God henceforth declared that the result of sin for all humanity is death. However, he sent his Son to right this wrong and save his creation.
Adam’s sin was the sin of all humanity. What, precisely, was Adam’s sin? That’s an excellent question. Why the death penalty for eating a piece of fruit?
The first thing we learned about God in the Bible is that God was the Creator. The first two chapters of Genesis set out two myths about the beginning of creation. The second thing we learn about God is that God is a lawgiver. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden except one. Adam was given this one specific law by God to obey. Adam chose to disobey this one specific law. Thus the first human sin involved the choice of self-interests rather than God’s interests. It involved the making of one’s self the chief end rather than God. The first human sin rejected God as the highest authority. Adam put his own authority above God’s.
God gave Adam a choice which, when exercised, would show whether he was prepared to obey God in loving trust or go his own way. He chose to go his own way. The result was the separation of Adam and Eve from the Garden and from fellowship with God.
In disobeying God, Adam and Eve died. I don’t mean they instantly dropped dead. In the Bible, the concept of ‘death’ in the spiritual sense has the meaning of separation from God rather than annihilation. In the Garden of Eden, on the day that they sinned, Adam and Eve became no longer innocent and holy. They now had a sinful nature. Their former fellowship with God was broken. There was a very real separation of their souls from God, and because of this, on that day, spiritually, they died. They continued to live physically, but from that day on, their human bodies were under the condemnation of death—a process that continued until the day that there was a separation between their souls and their bodies in physical death.
All of that happened because Adam gave in to temptation. Adam was gullible to the promises of Satan, but Jesus was not.
Adam focused on the short-term consideration of immediate hunger, whereas Jesus considered the long-term consequences of satisfying hunger for bread instead of hunger for God. Jesus chose not to take unreasonable risks to rupture the relationship between God as Father and Jesus as his Son. Jesus showed us that focusing on loyalty to God was more important than earthly power.
To use a common word and phrase, Adam was a stupid man who used poor judgment. Adam allowed Satan to use Adam for Satan’s purposes, whereas Jesus refused to go along with that program. Adam yielded to Satan. As a result of Adam yielding to temptation, humans crossed the line from immortal to mortal and became separated from God. That was not a good result.
Humanity continues in the world with a propensity that continues to affect human behavior in many negative ways. Although we today did not inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin, we nonetheless inherited the effects of Adam’s sin of disobedience to God.
Temptation is, in so many words, an enticement to do evil. Temptation preys on human weakness, such as hunger. Hungry people often do desperate things to be fed. When humans are pushed to extremes, they often do things they would not normally do.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He was, as a result, very hungry. The Devil, knowing this, targeted Jesus, thinking Jesus would go to extremes by using his divine powers to feed his human self. Jesus, however, did not take the bait.
Being fully human, Jesus manifested some of the same instincts and desires that characterize all of us. The desire for money and material goods that afflict all of us is similar to Jesus and the bread temptation. How many of us would like to command the things in our lives to become money?
We humans have a strong survival instinct, to be free from harm and invincible. That often leads us to take risks and suspend our good judgment. That’s what the Devil was attempting to do with Jesus in suggesting Jesus might throw himself off a cliff and risk falling but hoping God’s angels would be there to rescue him. Pride, ego, and a grand vision of ourselves afflict all of us as well. Anything we can experience to make that happen is attractive to us indeed.
In the cliff temptation, the Devil tempted Jesus to throw himself off a cliff so Jesus could say, “See, I can do this, and the angels rescued me.” And many people experience a desire for power over others, similar to the kingdom temptation. Again, Jesus resisted the Devil.
And of course, we humans have a strong desire for power over our environment and the persons within it. That’s what the Devil was attempting to do when the Devil offered all the world’s kingdoms if only Jesus would worship the Devil. Jesus responded, however, by telling the Devil to get lost.
Everyone experiences temptations all the time. We are tempted to stay in bed and sleep when we should get up and go to work. We are tempted to eat food that is bad for us because it tastes good. Some people are tempted to use drugs and alcohol so that their bodies will feel a certain way. We who are married are sometimes tempted to have inappropriate relationships with persons other than our spouses. How Jesus responded to temptation, and how Adam responded, were entirely different. How we respond to temptation shows our moral character.
Adam responded to the Devil at the gut level, not with his brain. Adam was gullible to the promises of the Devil. Adam did not think of the long-term consequences. Adam, in a word, was stupid and used poor judgment. Adam let the Devil use him. Jesus wouldn’t allow that to happen.
However, Jesus, in contrast to Adam, used his brain instead of letting the devil use him. That’s because Jesus was a wisdom teacher. Jesus invited his hearers to leave conventional wisdom behind in order to live by alternative wisdom. The Devil was no match for Jesus intellectually. The Devil thought he was smart, but Jesus was smarter than the Devil. Jesus displayed his superior knowledge of scripture in responding to the Devil. Jesus knew the Bible a great deal better than the Devil did. Deuteronomy 8:3 tell us, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” “Don’t put God to the test” comes from Deuteronomy 6:16, and “Worship God alone and him only shall you serve” comes from Deuteronomy 6:13.
If we give in to temptation, we show our weakness. If we resist temptation, we show our righteousness. We experience temptations all the time, in print, on television, and on the Internet, as merchants use advertising to persuade us to hand over our money to them. However, on a practical basis, the better you are at resisting the temptations of merchandizers, the bigger your bank account will grow.
Because Jesus did not yield to temptation like Adam did, his encounter with Satan produced better results for humanity. With Jesus, humanity gained eternal life. In his Resurrection, Jesus trampled down death by death itself. Our bodies may die, but our souls live on.
Adam, humanity 1.0, represented separation from God. Jesus, humanity 2.0, represented union with God. Jesus brought humanity back into a right relationship with God, which has always been, and always will be, the ultimate destiny of human existence. AMEN.