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1st Sunday of Lent, Year A, Matthew 4:1-11

Ancient Baptismal Font. The primary purpose of Lent is to prepare us for the Paschal Celebration. Our Lenten discipline disposes us to receive the grace of renewal promised in the Passover of Jesus Christ.
Ancient Baptismal Font. The primary purpose of Lent is to prepare us for the Paschal Celebration. Our Lenten discipline disposes us to receive the grace of renewal promised in the Passover of Jesus Christ.

Lent has begun. Catholics throughout the world have begun our Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, acts of penance that are meant to purify us and prepare us to celebrate Easter and have our faith renewed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We must turn away from sin and live our lives according to the Gospel.

To assist us in our penitence, the Church sets before us four Scripture passages which teach us about sin and evil. First is the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. The first chapter in the Bible announces that God looked upon all he created and he said it is very good!. The second chapter of the Bible teaches us that evil and sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Our first parents had everything. They were healthy, had all their needs taken care of in the garden, and they had the gift of eternal life. The needed nothing, but Satan tricked them into thinking they needed one more thing:  independence from God. Through the twisted logic of the devil, Adam and Even thought that they only way they could be truly free would be do disobey God. And that is how all sin enters the world. When we rupture the natural relationship we have with self, others, and God and choose to follow our own will. Sin is disobedience.

Obedience is a bad word in the modern world. We are told that we must think for ourselves, stand up to authority, rebel against those who tell us what to do, and be independent of any external control. That is the evil Spirit of this age, but it has been the evil spirit of all the ages of mankind.  But for the Christian, obedience is a sacred, holy word. The second reading, from the letter to the Romans, explains the sinful world in these words:  that all have sinned from the very beginning of time by disobeying God and ignoring his commandments. Sin entered through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Salvation comes through the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of today is an example of the obedience of Jesus Christ. We heard the passage from Matthew immediately before today’s reading at the Baptism of the Lord. The Voice of God thunders from the heavens:  This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased. The story of the Baptism of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is in direct contrast to the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. At his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus fulfills all righteousness and demonstrates that he is willing to do all that his heavenly Father asks of him. Jesus is the perfect Son, obedient to his Father.

Of course, all the evil spirits heard the Voice of God over the waters, so they are going to set out to test Jesus and see if he really is an obedient son or not. And just as in the Book of Genesis, so Satan enters to temp Jesus into disobeying God.

The three temptations are very important to remember. There are three of them and they stand for the three relationships which make up a human being:  our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God.   The image of the stone becoming bread is the temptation for Jesus to think only of himself, to take care of his own needs. The image of the high mountain where all the kingdoms of the world are visible is the temptation for Jesus to take advantage of his power to abuse the trust and honor of others. And the image of the roof of the temple is the temptation of Jesus to disobey his heavenly Father who alone is worthy of worship and adoration.

And just as we have memorized the Story of Adam and Eve, that they were in the garden and they gave into Satan’s temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, so we must memorize and understand the story of Christ’s temptation so we can better understand our own disobedience and sin.

Every sin that we commit is going to be a violation of these three essential relationships. In sin we are tempted to put ourselves before God, ourselves before others, and our own immediate pleasure and comfort even above our own best interest. This is what disobedience is:  a willful refusal to be listen to God, others, and even our own consciences, and go our own selfish way.

To assist us in the struggle against sin and disobedience, during Lent we use the three penitential disciplines of prayer, sacrifice, and charity. Through increased time and effort put into prayer and meditation on God’s Word, God gives us the healing and forgiving grace we need to be holy. In our sacrifice and fasting, we give up the things that give us pleasure and happiness, so that we can be more available to pray and do acts of charity. In our almsgiving or other acts of charity, we repair the damage we have done in our relationships with our brothers and sisters

One final word about the three temptations of Christ, our Lenten discipline,  and the three theological virtues of the Gospel. There are three virtues that manifest the grace that God bestows on us as signs of holiness and righteousness:   faith, hope, and love. These are the three weapons against sin and disobedience. How beautifully these three virtues fit with our Lenten journey.  Faith is right relationship with God. Hope is right relationship with ourselves, where our desire for grace and salvation prompts us to cooperate with God’s grace as we hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises. And charity is the virtue which rebuilds the fallen world of mankind. By our acts of charity, right relationship with others is restored.

Jesus has given us the example of perfect obedience. Let us follow him on his journey to Jerusalem and the fulfillment of His Father’s will.