Sunday Scripture readings for February 26, 2023, First Sunday of Lent
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Rom 5:12-19 (alt Rom 5:12, 17-19) Mt 4:1-11
We witness God’s mercy best when we are at our worst
Forbidden fruit is the sweetest, so the saying goes. We know this well from the experience of persevering in our lenten sacrifices. The more we resolve to put away certain foods the more tempting those treats become! The more we strive to be patient, the quicker we lose our patience. And our best intentions to engage in the corporal works of mercy can easily be derailed by the busyness of daily life. Our resolve to pray, fast, and give alms brings us face to face with human weakness. Among the many spiritual gifts of Lent is learning to trust in God and to persevere in cooperating with God’s grace, as we seek interior conversion of heart and mind.
The first reading invites us to take spiritual stock of our fallen human condition. In Genesis we read of God’s loving plan to create human beings out of nothing. Of all the living creatures, humans are the only ones into whom God breathes his own breath of life. For he “formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” What great dignity we have in being created with divine life breathed into us!
The account of the fall of Adam and Eve calls to mind the reality of original sin. Tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command. All sin from then on would flow from that original disobedience to (and lack of trust in) God’s goodness. The catechism describes original sin, “in that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God,” but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.” (CCC 398)
The divine response to our fallenness goes beyond anything we could imagine or create. God in infinite, loving mercy sends his only son, Jesus, to reconcile us to friendship with God. As Saint Paul explains to the Romans, “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
The psalmist turns this saving mystery of faith into prayer as he cries out, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.”
In the Gospel, Jesus shows his path to overcoming temptations to power, wealth and self-sufficiency. In Jesus, our lenten gaze is redirected to God, our loving creator and the ultimate source of our happiness and fulfillment. Jesus’ response to the tempter shapes our response to the daily temptations we face, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
As Lent begins may we embrace the gift of God’s mercy and grace with prayerful confidence saying, “speak to me, Lord.”
Question: How does Jesus’ response to the tempter shape your Lenten journey?
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!
Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.