March 13, 2011 — First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11
We humans were called by God to be good stewards – and we blew it! That’s the sad tale recounted in the Scripture readings we hear today. Just two weeks ago, on the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we heard St. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that one basic requirement of a steward is that he or she prove trustworthy (1 Cor 4:2), and on this First Sunday of Lent, we find out how miserably we have failed to meet that test.
The Old Testament reading from Genesis 2 and 3 and the Gospel are among the most familiar passages in all of Scripture. One verse omitted from the Genesis reading (Gen 2:15) helps fill in a gap about the man’s responsibility in the garden: “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The man was to be God’s steward in caring for the earthly creation. In return, God invited the man to eat from all the trees in the garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
With such an abundance of delicious and nutritious food available, the man and the woman should have been content, and they probably were until the serpent raised a nagging doubt: If God is really loving, why did he forbid eating the fruit of that one tree? What was he trying to hide from humanity? The answer, we know, was God’s intention to protect us from hatred and murder and war and all the other tragedies that make up human history. But Adam and Eve couldn’t see into the future and yielded to the temptation to gain an immediate satisfaction. And, so, Adam proved to be a failure as a steward; he couldn’t be trusted to obey the one specific instruction he had been given.
In the Gospel, Jesus also was tempted. Being fully human as well as fully divine, He could have yielded to the temptation. But He proved faithful and successfully resisted the temptations.
What you may not have noticed is that the temptations of Jesus fall into the three general categories into which we divide our stewardship. The temptation to turn stones into bread was one to reject our responsibilities as stewards of our treasure – to use our material possessions for our own comfort and security. The temptation to leap from the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem was a temptation to sin against the talents we’ve been given, to use them for our own aggrandizement rather than using them to serve others in the name of God. Finally, the temptation to worship Satan was an invitation to sin against the gift of time we’re given, for that time is to be used to worship God alone and pray to Him, not to worship a creature, especially one who has rebelled against his Creator.
What means did Jesus use to fight these temptations? Of course, He drew on His internal resources and the character He had developed over the 30 years of His earthly life. But, in particular, He used God’s revelation in Scripture that He had learned as a boy in the synagogue while He grew up, meeting every one of Satan’s attacks with a quotation from Deuteronomy.
So, Adam failed to be a trustworthy steward where Jesus succeeded when confronted by Satan. What about the rest of us?
St. Paul, in today’s selection from Romans 5, points to the contrasting results of the two events. Through the sin of Adam, his failure to be a trustworthy steward, death entered the world, with the result that we all die. But because of Jesus’ obedience, not only in the contest with Satan at the beginning of his public ministry, but throughout it, including the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and His Crucifixion, life has been restored to us, spiritual life with God beginning now and continuing into eternity.
This Lent, then, let us pray that we may use the grace, won for us by Christ’s sacrifice, to be trustworthy stewards, obeying God’s commands and using the gifts of time, talent, and treasure entrusted to us, not for our own sake, but to the glory of God and the benefit of all his people.