March 9, 2014 – First Sunday of Lent
Gn 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7; Ps 51: 3-6, 12-13, 17; Rom 5: 12-19; Mt 4: 1-11
The readings on this First Sunday of Lent take us from creation to Crucifixion, which is really analogous to our Lenten journeys. It is also similar to our corresponding stewardship journeys and the understanding of stewardship which those treks may spawn.
Our faith and our stewardship begin with the recognition that God is the source of all things. Therefore, it is most appropriate that our first reading from Genesis speaks to the creation, specifically the creation of humankind. There are two vital parts to God’s creation of us. Note that He molds us from the earth, and then He breathes into us the “breath of life.” In this chapter from Genesis it reads “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.” (Genesis 2:7)
This is key because it points out that we are physical (formed from the earth) as well as spiritual (the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, is breathed into us). If we lose that spiritual aspect, we are nothing but the earth and we return to dust. Of course, one of the statements we may hear when we received ashes on Ash Wednesday is “For dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.”
Nevertheless, St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (the second reading) explains that we do have alternatives and choices. “…just as through one transgression [reference to the downfall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as cited in the first reading] condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act [Jesus’ crucifixion and suffering for us] acquittal and life came to all.” (Romans 5:18) Paul reminds us that we have an option, especially during Lent, to pursue righteousness and grace. Stewardship, which recognizes that God creates and gifts us with all we are and all we may have, also appeals to us to live in a righteous way—please understand that both the Hebrew and Greek roots of the word “righteous” do not refer to an abstract idea of being good, but to a way of life which is good. Stewardship is a way of life, a way of living life which is good.
Our Lenten journey is emphasized as comparable to Jesus’ trials in the desert for 40 days. We tend to look at this Biblical explanation (it is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as something which occurred almost immediately after the Lord’s Baptism) as a series of temptations to which Jesus was exposed. As is often the case with Biblical language, we need to know that the translation into the word “tempt” is just as accurate in the original language to use the word “trial” or “test.” Thus when we hear the Word as “Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil,” it is just as accurate to say “Jesus was led into the desert to be tested by the devil.”
This is the reality which we face during Lent. It is not so much that we need to be prepared to resist temptation (giving up things that may be bad for us, or denying ourselves those things). Even more we need to be prepared to face the trial, the test, of living our lives correctly. Our approach should not be just self denial, but actions which demonstrate our desire to become closer to God. Do not forget that when we consider those three traditional “pillars” relating to Lenten efforts — prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — that two of the three call for action on our part. Lent is a time of action. Stewardship is a way of living based upon action.