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First Sunday – Year A – Lent
Readings: Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11.
1/ Reading I: 7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God 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 the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. RSV Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
2/ Reading II: RSV Romans 5:12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
3/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
I. THEME: Temptation
Temptations happen for all people every day. God doesn’t tempt people but He let temptations to happen to strengthen people’s faith, hope and charity for Him. The pessimists think people can’t overcome their three dangerous enemies which are the devil, the world and their own flesh; but Christians are equipped with the Scripture to recognize the truth and the sacraments to have strength to overcome all temptations.
All readings of the first Sunday of Lent, year A, give us a deep insight about temptation. In the first reading, the author of the Book of Genesis reported the fall of the first couple, Adam and Eve. The results of this temptation are terrible: people must work hard for their food, endure many suffering and die. In the second reading, St. Paul helps us to understand the relation between Adam’s sin and Christ’s merit in God’s plan of salvation. In the Gospel, the evangelist Matthew reported Jesus’ temptation in the desert before he begins his public mission and redemption. Though Christ was tempted as everyone, he triumphed over all three temptations of the devil because he always believes in God’s love and providence.
1/ Reading I: Adam and Eve were felt into the devil’s temptation.
1.1/ God provided everything for people: In only three sentences of the passage, vv. 7-9, the author shows God’s power, providence and love for human beings. He created people, established a garden for people to dwell in it. The first couple lacks nothing in that garden; they can eat all kinds of fruits in there, even the fruit that gives eternal life. To test the couple’s faith and love for Him, He prohibits them to eat from the tree the fruit that helps them to know good and evil.
1.2/ The devil’s temptation and the Fall:
(1) The snake’s crafty: The author gives us an important detail, “The serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” The snake is the symbol of the devil; it is also God’s creature. The devil is originally angels, but betrayed God. They are shrewder than men because they have no body; that is why they made the first couple to fall into their temptation. First of all, the snake caused curiosity from the woman: Why does God prohibits the fruit from that tree? Then, he aroused suspicion in her about God’s love for her by saying, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(2) The meaning of the first Fall:
– The name of the tree, “to know good and evil,” gives us a deep thought about this temptation. Only God knows what is good or evil. The devils also want to be like God, they were felt because of this reason. People can’t perfectly know what is good or evil as God; but want to be like Him so that they are no longer dependent on Him. It is exactly like the tree’s name because when they ate from it, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” They knew the good which is to recognize God’s love for them, and the evil which is to betray God’s love. They were ashamed.
– The first sin is the sin of pride because they are human beings, but wanted to be God. This sin leads to the second sin which is the sin of disobeying what God commanded them not to do it. Eve took and ate the forbidding fruit and gave it to her husband to eat it too. After eating, they were expelled from the Garden and must suffer many sufferings and die.
– They aren’t the only ones who committed these two sins; but through generations, they still are the reasons for people to fall into temptation and to endure so much sufferings. People of all places and in every generation are still tempted to think that they can be wiser or at least, equal to God. They want to decide everything for them, not to depend on anyone; especially they don’t want to hear anyone to command them to do anything, though they know it is good for them to listen.
2/ Reading II: Christ’s humility and obedience changed God’s sentence for human beings.
2.1/ Sin and blessing affect all people: St. Paul’s answer to the question, “How can all people inherit salvation from Jesus’ merit?” must be classified as important as his answer for the question, “Why are people saved: by their faith in Christ or by their good deeds?” In today passage, he gives the answer for the first question. I try to arrange his argument in the way that it helps you to understand better.
(1) “As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” How can we understand “all men sinned” in this sentence? There are three different understandings:
i. The original sin: All people are from the first couple, Adam and Eve, so all are inherited their sin. This is the Church’s teaching about the original sin; but not St. Paul’s idea here.
ii. Adam committed the first sin, after that all sinned; but there is not a direct relation between Adam’s and all human sins except there are two basic sins which are pride and disobedience. This understanding isn’t certain here.
iii. Adam is the symbol for all human beings as we use the word “man” to indicate either for “one man” or for “all men.” This might be what Paul wanted to imply here—all people committed sin in the first fall.
(2) The proof: Paul continued, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam.” For Paul, the law is called “the moral informer,” because if there is no law, there is no sin. The Ten Commandments are only given to the Israelites from Moses’ time; is this meant people committed no sins from the time of Adam to Moses? Paul said it is no such thing because people must still be died and death is the result of sins. Paul wanted to say that all people committed sins with Adam already; that is the reason for their death. Some shall question, “People can’t sin if they don’t exist yet!” Paul might answer: The collection of all people is considered as one before God, not as each single human being. Therefore, if one sins, everyone sin; if one dies, all must be died. Some can oppose, “Such are unjust!”
(3) Paul answered God isn’t unjust, because, “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Therefore, Paul answered the tough question, “How can the salvation for all come from the merit of one person, Christ?”
2.2/ No one is an isolated isle: Many pessimists lay the blame on Eve or Adam because they caused sins, sufferings and death for their descendants. St. Paul and the Church don’t blame on them, but call their sin as the “happy fault,” “the true necessary of Adam” as the Exultet praises in the Easter Vigil. St. Paul listed out here two blessings which people are enjoyed due to this sin:
(1) God let people be justified by their faith in Christ.
(2) Those are given many graces and justified by God, shall live and govern with Him.
And St. Paul concluded, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
3/ Gospel: Jesus was tempted as any human being and overcame them.
Matthew’s report of Jesus’ temptation is put before Jesus’ public ministry. According to the tradition, this place is Mt. Quruntur today, an area of chains of mountains between Jericho and Jerusalem. If a person comes to the priory on this mountain and climbs a short distance to the top, he can clearly see Jerusalem city from his standing. Jesus was tempted to choose the way to save people. The easiest and fastest way for people to believe in him is to feed and to give people everything they desire such as: richness, fame, power, etc. as it happened later when he multiplied the five loaves of bread and the two fish to feed five thousands men. They planned to make him as their king; but Jesus rejected it by sending his apostles away while he dispersing people; then he climbed to a mountain and prayed (Jn 6:15). The most difficult and longer way is to educate them to know the truth, to patiently practice them and to overcome suffering to reach salvation. This way requires him to sacrifice his body to the last drop of blood on the Cross to bring salvation for humankind.
3.1/ Christ’s three temptations
(1) The first temptation is about bread: The passage reports, “He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”” The devil knew Jesus is the son of God and since he has a human nature, he must feel hungry after forty days of fasting. A normal person shall not think of anything rather than food; so the devil came to tempt him to do a miracle to have food by converting stones into bread.
But Jesus answered the devil and teaches us an important lesson, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Man is a combination of his soul and body; as his body needs food to physically live, his soul also needs the words of God to spiritually live. The spiritual is more important than the physical life because it leads him to eternal life. But many people live as though they have no soul; they use all their time and effort for finding food and are unconcerned about studying God’s words. It isn’t a surprise if they felt from one to other temptations and greatly suffer.
(2) The second temptation is about performing miracles: “Then, the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” The devil knew the Jews like to see signs; and a great majority of people, especially the Vietnamese, likes the same. If Jesus wants people to believe in him, he only needs to perform miracles.
Jesus answered the devil and teaches us the second important question, “Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” Miracles are used to light up the faith in human mind; if a person had faith, miracles are no longer needed; but if a person is stubborn, they shall not believe even though he witnessed many miracles. We can see this fact in people of the Sandherin; they didn’t believe in Jesus but find ways to destroy him. Moreover, the faith which is based only on miracles isn’t firm; if people don’t see more miracles, they will lose their faith. They want and control God as their miracles machine instead of believe in His love and providence, as the devil said, “‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
(3) The third temptation is about richness and prosperity: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This temptation shows us the devil’s falsity because all what he promises belong to God, not to him.
Jesus answered the devil and teaches us the third important lesson, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” This temptation is against the first and most important commandment. The Christians know this commandment; but to put this commandment into practice isn’t easy because many people, due to material gains, not only refuse to worship God but also worship the devil. This temptation must open our eyes to recognize that all what we possess are completely from God, not from the devil, nor from our own effort or any other powers.
3.2/ The basic things to overcome the devil’s temptation: First of all, knowledge about God and human being is the necessary condition to overcome temptation. In order to have this knowledge, people need to spend time to learn about God in Scripture and the Church’s teachings. St. Jerome said, “Ignoring of Scripture is ignoring of God.” It also ignores of God’s plans and ways for human beings. When people know these things, they shall recognize the devil’s wicked trap and don’t fall into it. Next, the faith in God’s providence is also important. People must firmly believe that God shall not leave people to face the devil by themselves, but shall send His angels and good people to help and to protect His children, as He sent His angels to administer and to protect Jesus after his temptation. Lastly, the human weak point is to doubt God’s existence, love and providence. Many people worry about God’s existence; and if He exists, does He care for them; therefore, they think that it is better for them to take care of themselves!
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We are only creatures created out of God’s love and have many limitations. We must expel the sins of pride and disobedience by acquiring the two opposite virtues of humility and obedience as Christ exemplified for us.
– We need to destroy selfishness and individualism to learn God’s generosity and collective view. When one person sins, all are affected; when one does a good thing, all are benefited. Only such a lifestyle can help us to eliminate reviling, jealousy, fighting, divorce, war and meet requirements of the commandment of love as Christ teaches us.
– All temptations can be overcome if we study Scripture and practice it so that our faith shall be more firm.