During this season of Lent we endeavour to imitate Christ our Lord who went into the desert for forty days and forty nights in order to prepare himself for his ministry. Through prayer, penance and almsgiving we try to come closer to God.
If we don’t count Sundays, the season of Lent is 40 days long. Just as the children of Israel were prepared for entrance into the Promised Land for forty years in the wilderness, so Our Lord prepares to begin his public life by spending forty days in prayer. A great mission was before the Lord. He would resurrect the eternal life God intended for all people. He would demonstrate the extent of God’s love for his people. He would make the Kingdom of God a reality. Our forty days of Lent are a period of prayer with Our Lord as we prepare to celebrate the paschal mysteries of his death, resurrection and the great gift of eternal life. A great mission confronted the Lord. A great mission is held before us. Our mission is to make Christ present in our world by nurturing his presence in our lives.
There is a problem though. And it’s a problem that keeps God from us; it keeps God from those who need to find him in each of us. The problem is the extent of our lives where God is not present. The problem is sin.
Every person who has ever lived, every person who lives now or who ever will come to life is tempted to sin. Now, temptation in itself is not sinful, because temptation is part and parcel of being human. The day that you no longer feel any form of temptation you had better take your pulse because you are probably dead. Temptation itself is not a sin. The sin comes in giving in to temptation.
Even among many Catholics today “sin” is a taboo word. Some psychologists like to find excuses why people should not be held responsible and accountable for their actions. They say their environment, their childhood, their genetic makeup, or other factors has resulted in their being criminal, unfaithful, disloyal, disobedient, even traitorous. These may all be factors in the temptation, but to say that these factors force us to sin is not only ridiculous but dehumanizing. We are different from animals. If someone says that I no longer have the ability to choose right or wrong, then they are saying that I no longer have the ability to love, for love is a choice. If I do not have the ability to withstand temptation, then I do not have the ability to choose good. We all have to take responsibility for our actions. We can choose good and we can choose evil. As human beings, we will continually be confronted with that choice. The temptation to evil is not bad, but the choice of evil always is.
The first reading of today’s liturgy is the familiar recounting of the Fall of Mankind. The Book of Genesis presents Adam and Eve and their encounter with the Devil in the form of a serpent. Their temptation was to push God aside. Now, this is not a story about apples. This is a demonstration of how people continually act as though they do not need God. ‘Go on… eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Get to experience evil. Don’t worry about God. You won’t need God anymore.’ The sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of pride; the very same sin we all commit when we decide that we don’t need God.
The Gospel today is St. Matthew’s presentation of the temptation of the Lord. Our Lord can have personal profit; he can have comfort and glory if only he pushes God aside for a moment or two, or forever. Personal profit would come if he used his powers as the Messiah for himself, and turn those stones into bread. Comfort would be his if he used his powers to protect himself by calling out the forces of God to defeat those who wanted to kill him. Glory would be his if he bowed to materialism instead of to his Father. As a human being Our Lord had the ability to sin, but he chose not to sin. And because Our Lord refused to sin, we experience God’s healing hand, we experience his love and his salvation. Because Our Lord refused to give in to the Devil and to sin, we can live forever.
“Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, shows the contrast between Adam’s sin and Our Lord’s decision not to sin. And the lesson is that our actions, our choices, have a profound effect not only upon ourselves but on other people, particularly those who are close to us. Our community and our families suffer when we choose to sin; just as our families grow in love when we choose not to sin. The world suffers when we choose sin; but the world is healed when we choose virtue.
During these forty days of Lent we are reminded of our sharing in the mission of Our Lord. We are called to bring his salvation to the world. We are called to make his presence evident. We can do this. We can let God work through us. But we have to choose God. We know that the choice of good might lead us to a crucifixion by the forces of the world. We may be mocked by those who appear to hold power and influence in our society. But we also know that the world needs us to give testimony to the presence of God with our lives. As we begin Lent we ask God to forgive us for the bad choices we have made and we ask him to help us to make those choices that render his presence real in the world.