Sunday, 1 March 2009

1st Sunday of Lent Year B

Temptation is a universal human experience and overcoming it is also a universal struggle. Oscar Wilde, the celebrated Oirish playwright and poet, once said, “The only way to overcome temptation is to give in to it... I can resist everything but temptation”. Our ordinary understanding of temptation is in terms of the temptation to commit sin and as such, the aim of Christian perfection is to overcome it.

In the Gospel, Christ underwent a forty-day period of testing in the desert. Mark’s Gospel is brief and does not say much about what He was tested on. Our detailed knowledge of the temptation is supplemented by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. These two Gospels tell us what they are and they give us the accounts of how Christ overcame each of Satan’s temptation. But the brevity of Mark’s Gospel is good. It directs us to the first reading. There, we are told that after the flood, God established a relationship with Noah and his descendants—a covenant signed with the colours of the rainbow. And to remind us, the 2nd Reading looks back at the Covenant that God made with Noah in the light of Christian Baptism. Baptism replaces the Flood. In the Flood, we were vanquished but through Baptism we enter a covenant of life with God. We enter the waters of Baptism knowing that there will be life not death when we come out of it.

Thus, the readings this Sunday help us see that temptation is not just to commit sin. How is that so? We know that right after His Baptism, Christ was driven into the desert. But before that what happened in the River Jordan was this: Just as He was baptised, a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved”. Therefore the desert temptations were not just about turning stone to bread, jumping off a parapet or worshipping Satan. Instead, the temptations were simply invitations to break covenant with God, to break the covenant that says, “You are my Son, the Beloved”. Perhaps you will appreciate how appropriate it is that we enter Lent focussing on the Temptation of Christ and not the Temptations of Christ; the focus is not the committing of sins but the breaking of our covenantal relationship with God.

Since Christ was tempted, we can rest assured that His temptation will become a reality for those who enter into covenant with Him. We will be tested to trust His relationship with us. At the beginning of the year, the US President gives a “State of the Union” address; at the beginning of Lent, we take a look at the state of our soul to see how our covenant with God may be strengthened. But, if we think of sins in terms of committing this or that particular sin then it is much easier to give up on cursing, smoking, drinking or eating. But, if we think of our relationship with God, then it requires a much more honest look at where we place God in our lives. Where God is cuts through everything that we do.

Sometimes we do miss out on this covenantal relationship with God. A good example is Sunday Mass. Why do we come to Mass on Sunday? The usual answer is “it is an obligation”. Yes, it is an obligation, but that in some way misses the point as shown in the court proceeding of a Christian charged for violating the Roman prohibition to worship on Sunday. The accused was asked by the judge why he broke the law against Sunday gathering. At first he gave the excuse that his friends came and he couldn’t turn them away. But when pressed for a better answer, he said, “It is Sunday... the Day of the Lord. Without the Lord, we cease to be”. That is the meaning of Sunday. It is more than an obligation for it expresses our covenant with God.

The good news according to the CCC (540) is that Christ’s “temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes Him and the way men wish to attribute to Him”. In overcoming His temptation, He has shown us what it means to be God’s sons and daughters.

Thus, the beginning of Lent is an invitation to reflect on how to strengthen our filial and covenantal relationship with God our Lord. Christ has shown us how we can overcome the temptation to break that covenant with God. “For we have not a high-priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15). And because He himself was tested by what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested (Heb 2:18).

We will always be tested but that’s not the point. The point is Christ is there to show the way. Turn to Him with trust even if you continually fall. You can approach Him with confidence, knowing that in Him there is mercy and grace in your time of need.