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Friday, 7 March 2014

1st Sunday of Lent (A) 2014

1st Sunday of Lent (A)

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ.    (2 Corinthians 11:3

‘Sincere and pure commitment’: the basic meaning of the Greek original words -- confirmed by New Vulgate -- is ‘simplicity, simple’; and that was indeed the attitude shown by Our Blessed Lord when tempted by the devil after His forty day fast in the desert.  However, in order to appreciate Jesus’ demeanour better let us turn to our first reading and study Eve’s attitude when she met with temptation.

The devil questioned the woman, not the man; obviously he did that for the surer success of his own plans.  What were the weaknesses that drew his special attention to Eve: was it the fact that she was wilful, even rebellious; or that curiosity, perhaps even a tendency to overweening conceit and personal vanity, was prominent in her make-up?  Most certainly she wanted to ‘know for herself about things’; above all, that is, to be able to form her own judgement concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which Adam had spoken to her.   Such a wilful desire for independence and self-determination seems to have made it impossible for Eve to recognize the devil, even when showing himself to her and -- in his very first words -- manifesting himself to be what he is essentially and eternally: namely, a liar and an implacable and deadly enemy of all who allow him to draw near and find a niche for himself in their lives.  How ironical it is that Eve, who was about to show herself to be so wilful before the Lord, could be so very, very, SIMPLE before the devil!

Hear again his devilish words, and recognize his endeavours to portray himself as siding with Eve against God in a pretended confrontation he himself was trying his very best to concoct, stir up, and promote:

          Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?

He knew full well that God had not given any such command: the couple were living in God’s garden and eating its good fruit, the devil’s words were simply a ruse to de-stabilize Eve and find out precisely what had gone on between God and the couple still walking innocently and unashamedly in His garden before His eyes.

The very fact that Eve responded so readily to the devil was amazing; for, after all, he was evil itself!   Dolled-up, disguised, or whatever word you may like to think, he was nevertheless, himself, and lying as he always does.  And yet Eve apparently sensed nothing at all untoward, she just talked with him freely and listened to him carefully!!  In doing so, she revealed both her ambitious nature aspiring far beyond what God had arranged for Adam and herself, and her deep dis-satisfaction with a life of simplicity and obedience before God.

Adam, on the other hand, found himself caught up in an already somewhat developed relationship between Eve -- secretly alienating herself from God in her heart-of-hearts -- and the devil, with whom Eve was now in open discussion.  It was a situation of which he was until the last moment apparently unaware; and surprised -- perhaps alarmed -- he behaved like a wimp who simply wanted to go along with his wife rather than actually take upon himself the responsibility of seeing that God’s solemn warning and express command concerning the tree in the centre of the garden -- a command originally given to himself before his help-mate was fashioned -- was acknowledged and complied with; as was, indeed, his most solemn duty both out of reverence for God and love for Eve:

The LORD God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”  

The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”    (Genesis 2:16-18)

Nevertheless, no matter what God had commanded Adam, Eve wanted to know for herself, to be able to form her own judgement concerning, that intriguing and most attractive tree, bearing fruit giving knowledge of good and evil. 

Such, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, was the situation which allowed sin and death to enter into our lives.

Jesus, however, the most Beloved Son of God and the supreme culmination and sublime fulfilment of mankind, in His confrontation with and tempting by the devil, was not interested in being able to form His own human appreciation of, or Personal confirmation of, His relationship with His Father; and He was most certainly not going to prove anything before the Devil’s tribunal. He did not need  to test, and convince Himself of, His divine power by changing stones into bread, even though it would have immediately satisfied His gnawing hunger;  nor would He -- by a farcically theatrical display of outrageous presumption -- descend(!) to demonstrating the validity and reality of the Scriptures’ attestation of His own Personal dignity and the eternal significance of His mission as Son of Man to the devil, who was himself seeking, most ludicrously and desperately, to sow but the smallest seed of doubt and mistrust in Jesus’ mind. 

In all and above all, though, Jesus would not entertain any wish other than that, in all things, His Father’s will, exclusively, might be done in Him and for Him: 

My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me, and to finish His work.   
To do your will, O my God, is my delight. (John 4:34) (Psalm 40:9)

At the beginning of the season of Lent, dear People of God, it behoves us to learn from the tragic failure of faithless Eve and feckless Adam as we, disciples of Jesus, seek to walk more faithfully with Him for the praise and glory of His and our heavenly Father; and Mother Church has given us, in our second reading, a text of Saint Paul that can help to interpret the whole situation for us:

Just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.

With regard to his own converts in Corinth, Saint Paul said that he feared for them lest their thoughts might be, or have become, corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ, and the corruption he feared was, basically, a lack of simplicity in their bearing as disciples of Jesus, a lack most strikingly exemplified for us both in the behaviour of Eve, ambitious and conceited, wanting to know for herself and decide for herself, and of Adam, indolent and – out of pseudo- consideration for his wife – fearing, or not caring, to take hold of the reins, so to speak, as was his duty before God.  

As we turn directly to Jesus for guidance, we see that -- as distinct from the spineless and accommodating Adam – He took hold of the reins most firmly when the devil offered Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence if He would but prostrate Himself and worship him.  Up to that moment Jesus, facing questions about His own power, and His position in the Scriptures, had been dismissive of the devil, answering him with but a few chosen and correctly interpreted words of Scripture.  However, as soon as the devil sought to invade His Father’s realm by seeking worship for himself, Jesus immediately revealed the devil’s personal identity and his evil essence by the irresistible power of His own authoritative command:  

          Get away Satan!  It is written: ‘The Lord your God shall you worship’.

In a like manner He gives us guidance with regard to self-assertive Eve’s evil example and baleful legacy by His own selfless and total commitment to the honour and glory of His Father, the God of Whom Eve gladly heard the devil speak most disrespectfully:

You certainly will not die!   No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.

Of course, Eve listened gladly because the devil’s words expressed what she wanted to hear… he didn’t so much deceive her, as approve and proclaim her secret thoughts in order to promote and prosper her rebellious inclinations.

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ.
Dear People of God, the New Testament bears repeated witness to Jesus’ preferred understanding of our eternal fulfilment as our becoming, in Himself, children of God; and His whole life gives us constant inspiration, guidance, and spiritual power towards the fulfilment of that purpose.  And so it is, that in our readings today Mother Church also chooses to give us further insight into the authentic make-up of a true child of God, by showing us how Adam and Eve both failed in that respect.

Saint Paul calls to our minds the threat and danger of a corrupted, insincere, commitment to Christ, which consists, he tells us, in a lack of simplicity in our relationship before God our Father and with Jesus our Saviour; and we have seen such a lack of simplicity and transparency at the root of the behavior of both Adam and Eve, in her self-centered and ambitious conniving and his spineless acquiescence. 
People of God, only simplicity before God allows God’s Gift, the Spirit of Jesus, to work freely in us and form us in the likeness of Jesus for the Father … and it takes both firm and constant courage, true and persevering humility, if such a reign of the Spirit is to become a decisive feature of our lives.  For simplicity embraces what is essential and most beautiful in the Christian life: it springs from deep trust and sure hope; it enfolds calm patience and long-sufferance; it requires a pure gaze of self-surrendering love fixed most devoutly on the Lord Himself in all His beauty,  and on His mysterious but unfailing goodness to mankind, indeed -- most mysteriously of all -- on His goodness to and love for each one of us personally, if we are but able and willing to advert to it comforting and calling us throughout the course of, and right to the final dénouement of, our lives before Him.

Let us, therefore, aspire to, love and pray for, such a humble but beautiful virtue; unappreciated and unacknowledged for the most part by men, but recognized and treasured by St. Paul as he constantly contemplated, and most ardently aspired to full maturity in, Christ Jesus his Lord and Saviour, both for himself and for us.