MARCH 5TH, 2017: FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
The LORD God 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.
Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and placed there the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow
that were delightful to look at and good for food,
with the tree of life in the middle of the garden
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
"Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?"
The woman answered the serpent:
"We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'"
But the serpent said to the woman:
"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."
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.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.
Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one, the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
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.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For 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.
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
"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 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.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone."
Jesus answered him,
"Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."
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."
Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.
Back in the late 60s, Pope Paul VI convened a unique meeting at the Vatican. Realizing the majority of anthropologists were convinced the human race evolved from more than one set of “original parents,” the pontiff was anxious to explore how this rather new theory of polygenesis could fit into the Christian doctrine of original sin. Based on today’s first reading, that doctrine presumed we all sprang from one set of parents who at one point in their early existence had committed a sin so serious that it not only affected them personally, but was somehow passed down to all their descendants.
Among those whom Paul gathered were eminent scientists, Scripture scholars, anthropologists and theologians. Their final report was eventually published in the now-defunct Critic magazine. Though their opinions differed, they all seemed to agree on two things. First, the Yahwistic author of Genesis never expected us to take her biblical account of the “fall” literally. She simply created a classical myth to explain the origins of something we all experience: a basic sinful disorder in each of our lives. Second, the actual original sin probably wasn’t something our ancestors did, but something they didn’t do.
According to these experts, the first humans were few enough to have definitively changed the moral environment in which they lived. But they didn’t. Instead, time and time again they caved into their “dog eat dog” surroundings, refusing to replace the hateful situations they encountered with the love God intended them to display. The result was that their descendants were forced to face the same disordered environment – a climate which guaranteed it would be only a matter of time before each individual committed his or her original sin.
It’s good to hear today’s second and third readings from this perspective. Paul is convinced Jesus of Nazareth totally changed the environment we daily encounter. He reminds the Christian community in Rome that they no longer have to give in to the hatred and mistrust flourishing around them. The risen Jesus has overcome all that. And if we have the courage to join him/her in dying and rising, we’ll also replace our disordered surroundings with an environment of love. “For, if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many?” Each of us has the ability to change our surroundings for the better.
In a similar way, Matthew’s Jesus begins his pubic ministry with the message that no longer will it be “business as usual.” He’s determined to alter the way people live their lives. He isn’t, for instance, going to spend his life just taking care of people’s physical needs. Changing stones into bread won’t be a top priority. He’s determined to tackle the roots of our “screwed up” environment, not just the externals.
Neither is he going to do the spectacular, something that would make the headlines. No jumping off high buildings. Instead, he’s committed to the day by day loving of those around him: the one thing that would definitely change everyone’s life.
In the end, he’s simply not interested in having dominion over the “kingdoms of the world.” Those who lust after such a grandiose position have obviously made a pact with the devil to manipulate their sinful surroundings to their own selfish benefit, not to eradicate them.
It’s easy to forget the kind of person we’ve committed ourselves to imitate; someone who just didn’t want his followers to avoid sin. More than anything, he expected them to change their environment enough that sin might no longer be the trap it was for those who first inhabited our planet.