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First Sunday Of Lent, Year A, By Rev. Fr. Lucas Binnah Junior, C.S.Sp

Rev Fr Lucas Binnah Junior


First Sunday Of Lent, Year A, By Rev. Fr. Lucas Binnah Junior, C.S.Sp

First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7/Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4.5-6.12-13.14 and 17 (R. cf. 3a) Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19/Gospel Acclamation: Mt. 4:4b/Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11


He looked so worried and confused. His mind was overburdened, and one could look at his face and see misery, pain and despondency all written there! Constantly buffeted by the storms of temptations, he had come to the conclusion that he had little or no will power. He went to see his parish priest and told him, “Father, I do not think I have will power, and even if I have it, it is not strong enough. For no matter how I try, it is very difficult for me to overcome temptations.” In reply, the priest told him, “In life, one needs more than a willing spirit to fulfil destiny; you need a conquered flesh!” To conquer the flesh requires both self-discipline and the gift of divine grace. Napoleon Hill once said, “If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.” In fact, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, remarked, “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” Harry S. Truman, the former U.S. President, corroborates this when he said, “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves. Self-discipline, with all of them, came first.” On Ash Wednesday, we began the season of Lent, and we were reminded of human fragility and mortality, as well as, the need for repentance. Today’s liturgy also gives us choicest readings on how to dispose ourselves to discipline and divine grace in the face of temptations. Before we look at the readings, let us briefly look at the significance of the number forty (40), which is the full length of days of Lent.

The penitential season of Lent is a time of grace made up of 40 days. It is derived from the Anglo[1]Saxon words Lencten which means “spring” and Lenctentid literally meaning “Springtide” or “March” (the month in which Lent usually falls). It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The 40-day journey reflects the 40 days of spiritual battle our Lord and Saviour Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his public ministry. Also, this number prefigures the 40 days each that Moses and Elijah spent at the time their ministries were severely put on trial. In addition, the number 40 characterises major symbolic events in the Bible (cf. Ex. 24:18,34:28; IKgs.19:8; Gen.7:4,17; Num.14:34; Jon. 3:4). Thus, the spiritual and theological significance of the number “40” is that, it affords us a considerably enough length of time to prepare sufficiently to encounter the risen Lord at Easter. It is a preparation for a new beginning. Through its rigours, we learn to endure and overcome temptations, so as to become spiritually strong and healthy. So, Lent is a means of reminding Christians, and indeed all humanity, on the necessity and value of repentance.

In the first reading, we see the genesis of many things: the origin of man, of plants, of life, of temptations and of sin. God creates man (generic) and provides every necessity including a conducive environment for them (cf. Gen. 2:7-9). In spite of this, through disobedience, our first parents, Adam and Eve, sin by offending the love and generosity of God. In a subtle and crafty way, the serpent deceives Eve, and Eve, Adam. Deception and lies, undisciplined appetites and care-free life usually make us succumb easily to temptations. The serpent asks Eve: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1b). Even when Eve answers truthfully, the serpent lies by saying: “You will not die…” (Gen. 3:4). Unfortunately, Eve and then, Adam fall into his trap. Yet, Jesus, in an unconducive environment (desert) reveals the secret of how to overcome the devil’s trappings in the Gospel. First, he is led by the Spirit; then, he fasts and prays; he is abreast with scripture and interprets it authentically, and he is not oblivious to the deception and lies of the devil. Jesus knows the tactics of his enemy, the devil (cf. Jn. 8:44). Many of us either underestimate or do not know the schemes of the devil. If we do not know our enemies or opponents at war with us, how can we avoid their manoeuvres? How do we defeat them tactically?

There is a very revealing point to note here. Even when the devil attacks him with his seeming power, Jesus is not gripped with fear, but firmly resists him with full faith in the mighty power of God (cf. Mt. 4:1-11). We also need to resist him in the power of God (Jas. 4:7). Most of the time, we give in to trepidation. We should rather be afraid of our own freedom, for, without the proper exercise of it, we make wrong choices and fall into temptation. Again, it is quite interesting to learn that the target or focus of the triple temptation of Jesus borders on human power, pleasure and possession. These are the common areas of temptation in life (‘3P’s), and we need to take cognisance of them and arm ourselves adequately. Be that as it may, we have the assurance of God who will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, for, together with the temptation, he will provide a means of escape (cf. I Cor. 10:13). So, staying close to God at all times is Jesus’ secret.

Beloved in Christ, we seem to have lost the sense of sin. When we miss the mark and deviate from the norm, we just brush it aside and think those lapses are just mistakes. When we do that, we rationalise, philosophise and entertain sin to our detriment. Yet, a disposition of humility and honesty helps us to learn to accuse and pass sentences on ourselves whenever we stray from the Lord. Such an action would lead us to the Lord in sacramental confession where he washes us in the pool of forgiveness and mercy. Also, using Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor to exhort us in his 2023 Lenten Message, Pope Francis gives us two weapons to assist us: to listen to Christ, and not be afraid to face the realities in life. This becomes possible when repentance shows forth in reconciliation with God and others. So, St. Paul urges us: “Be reconciled with God” (II Cor. 2:5). It also means living for one another, and that is the thrust of today’s second reading. For our sake, Jesus died a painful death. Consequently, St. Paul juxtaposes original sin through Adam and eternal salvation through Jesus Christ (Second Adam) and tells us that what Christ did is far superior: “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” (Rom. 5:17).

We cannot be human and not be tempted! Our master Jesus, when he became human, also faced this existential phenomenon. Temptations are as old as humankind and so, are not uncommon in human affairs! Nonetheless, Jesus shows us how we can win the battle by conquering our flesh in the power of divine grace. St. Augustine admonishes us: “If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted, he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.” So, let us stay close to Jesus Christ every moment of our lives, particularly through prayer, and as Jesus received aid from his Father during his temptations; we too, never ever alone, do obtain angelic ministration when tempted. May God strengthen us with his Spirit on our Lenten journey. A Spirit-filled Lent! Remember: #Conquered-Flesh#

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