Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the First Sunday of Lent – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray.
The Liturgy Teaches Us How to Resist Every Evil Temptation
For the First Sunday of Lent in Year A, the collators of our lectionary chose three readings that intend to remind us that it is rather simple to discern when we are being tempted by the Evil One. Here is the key; all temptations are evil whenever we are being tempted to take what is not ours; that is, whatever God has not gifted us, we are being tempted. Here, the work of the Evil One is simple; all he is trying to do is get us to act contrary to who we were created to be by tempting us through our emotions and passions to desire what others have; tempting us to desire not the gifts that God has given us, but those He has gifted to our neighbors. In this way, falling into temptation basically turns us into toddlers who are crawling around on the ground and grabbing anything in sight that does not belong to us and putting it in our mouth, and then crying when it is taken from us.
I recall that a couple decades ago when I fell into a temptation and my wife told about me some of the things that people were saying about me; such as, ‘Why would he do that? He had everything’ and ‘What else did he need, he had a great life.’ Comments like those completely miss the whole point of temptation and why people fall into sin. Satan does not tempt us with what we already have; Satan does not play on our emotions and passions to keep what we have already. On the contrary, the temptation is always oriented towards those things we do not have; the things that the temptations from the world, the flesh, and the Devil convince us that we deserve.
In the case of Adam and Eve in today’s First Reading from Genesis 2:7-9 and 3:1-7, we could have made the same remark that people made about me; what more could Adam and Eve want? God has given Adam life; God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” God gave Adam paradise; the Garden of Eden. So, when the serpent comes again, he does not tempt Eve with what was below, because God has already given them the earth; rather, the serpent tempts her with what is from above; what she did not have. “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.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Again, the refrain could be, ‘What more could they want?’ They already know all good, why would they also want to know what is evil? On the contrary, it is not that Eve wanted to know what was evil; she just wanted what she did not have – she wanted what God has.
In today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 4:1-11, the Devil follows the same pattern that he did with Eve in the garden. He cannot tempt Jesus with what from above as he did Eve, because all that belongs to Him anyway. Rather, in each instance, the Devil tries to play on Jesus’ emotions and passions to tempt Him from what is below, and each time, Jesus refutes the Devil by pointing him to what is from above. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took Jesus up higher to show him what was even further below. “Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” “Again, it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him even higher to tempt Jesus what was even further below. Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” The reality of the Temptation in the Desert event is that Jesus found nothing that was greater than God the Father Almighty.
That there is nothing greater than God is what the liturgy of the Mass is repetitiously trying to teach us. The Apostle Paul in today’s Second Reading from Romans 5:12-19, sums the whole purpose of the liturgy; writing, “For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” Indeed, it is through the Sacraments of the Church, most importantly the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist that the reign of life in the persons of the Holy Spirit and Christ Jesus truly come to dwell in us. For, if God is reigning in us, how can there be any space in us for the reign of sin and death to also dwell?
Moreover, the Divine Symphony is teaching us how to resist temptation in the same way that our Lord and Savior did, by pointing us to the fact that there is nothing greater than God. For, he who has found something greater than God, has found has plotted his course to eternal damnation. Yet, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are being constantly reminded that we are an ascending people, and, therefore, there is nothing from below that is worth our attachments. This is why the most pivotal moment of the Mass are its ascension points; the procession to the sanctuary, which is a type of upward journey to Jerusalem, the elevation of the Gospels above the head of the minister and priest, the elevation of the one bread and chalice and the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, and again the elevation of the Corpus Christi before our reception of Him. These elevations are our constant reminder that our desires should only be ordered to what is above, rather than to what is below, and if we keep our desires order that way; to only desire for ourselves what God desires for us, then there is no temptation that the Evil One can successful use against us.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.