1st. Sunday of Lent (A) 2020
(Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
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 Cor. 11:3)
‘Sincere and pure commitment’, was indeed the attitude shown by Our Blessed Lord Himself when tempted by the devil after His forty day fast in the desert; and, in order the better to appreciate the wisdom of Jesus’ demeanour and learn from the reckless folly of Eve’s example, let us turn to our first reading and study Eve’s attitude when she met with the devil and talked herself into temptation.
The devil questioned the woman, not the man; obviously, he did that not because his was a ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ attitude – although he did most certainly despise the human race -- but for the surer success of his own plans. What were the weaknesses that drew his special attention to Eve: was it that he recognized her as personally being of a wilful, even rebellious, disposition; or was it that he saw native curiosity, perhaps a tendency to conceit and personal vanity, as being prominent in her make-up? Most certainly she wanted to ‘know for herself about things’, above all, she wanted to be able to form her own judgement concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil concerning which Adam had told her about God’s prohibition. Such a wilful desire for independence from God and self-determination and self-appreciation seems to have made it possible for Eve to think she could take on, chat with, the devil, and impossible for her to recognize him even when showing himself in his very first words, manifesting himself to be what he is essentially and eternally: namely, the liar, and the most implacable enemy of all who allow him to find a niche for himself in their lives. How tragically ironic it is that Eve, preparing herself to be so wilful before the Lord seeking to protect her, could be so very, very, simple and stupid before the devil seeking only the downfall of these two privileged dwellers in Eden, despicable human-beings that they were!
Recall 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 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 provoke 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: on this occasion somewhat of a flatterer, but above all the liar, lying as always in order to destroy. Neverthless, Eve 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 humble 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 apparently unaware; and surprised , perhaps alarmed, he behaved like a wimp who simply wanted to avoid trouble by going 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 was obeyed -- a command originally given to himself before his help-mate had even been created -- 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)
No matter what God had commanded Adam, Eve wanted to know for herself, to be able to form her own judgement concerning that most attractive tree, bearing delicious fruit and – oh! how very intriguing!! -- giving knowledge of good and evil.
Such, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, was the situation which brought sin and death into our lives; and such pride and irresponsibility, such ignorance and indifference, are still haunting and thwarting us as Christians and Catholics today.
Jesus however -- the beloved Only-Begotten Son of God and the culmination and sublime fulfilment of mankind -- in His confrontation with the devil, was not interested in promoting or confirming His own human awareness and appreciation of His Father’s love for Him; and He was most certainly not going to attempt 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 – descend (quite literally!) to demonstrating the reality of the Scriptures’ attestation of Himself and the eternal significance of His mission as the Messianic Son of God to the devil, who was desperately seeking to sow but the smallest seed of doubt and mistrust into Jesus’ mind.
Throughout all this, Jesus would not entertain any wish other than that, in all things, His Father’s will exclusively might be done in Him for the fulfilment of the mission for which He had been sent by His Father:
My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me, and to finish His work.
I delight to do Your will, My God. (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 that of Adam, indolent and – out of pseudo-consideration for his wife – not wanting the responsibility of taking hold of the reins, so to speak, to see that God’s will was done.
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 decisively 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 ambitious and self-assertive Eve gladly hearing the devil speak most disrespectfully of God:
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.
Eve’s evil example and baleful legacy Jesus utterly condemned by His own selfless and absolute commitment to the honour and glory of His Father, the God Who had sent Him, and Whom -- by the Spirit -- He served wholeheartedly to His earthly death, and now rejoices, in the heavenly glory of their mutual beatitude, for all eternity.
Of course, Eve gladly listened to the devil because his words expressed what she wanted to hear… he didn’t so much deceive her as proclaim and apparently support her secret hopes and desires in order to stir up 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 chooses -- as we have seen -- 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 behaviour of both Adam and Eve, in his spineless acquiescence and her self-centred and ambitious conniving.
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 true humility and significant courage 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, if we will but advert to His Spirit addressing, calling, and wanting to guide us throughout the course of, and even to the final dénouement of, our earthly lives for and before Him.
Let us, therefore, aspire to, love and pray for, such a humble but beautiful virtue. Spiritual simplicity is unknown and indeed inconceivable for the majority of men and women today, but it was most admiringly recognized and treasured by St. Paul as he constantly prayed for, and most ardently aspired to, full maturity in Christ Jesus his Lord and Saviour, both for us and for himself.