HOMILY : 1st Sunday of Lent : Year A 2014
The stories of the beginning of life in Genesis are just that. Stories, created to try and express various truths about the world and about our place in it. The story we hear today (2:7-9.3:1-7) is an attempt to express in story form why, despite the goodness of the world that God has made, something has gone wrong. It is an exploration of that strange conundrum that the thing we humans most value, our freedom to choose what we want to do, is also our greatest downfall. Our problem is that we too often choose what looks good (the fruit in this case) rather than choosing what is good – not just for us but for the Universe as a whole.
Animals do not choose in that way. They have not got the ability to see beyond themselves, to imagine a whole variety of different choices, and to ponder on which one might be right or wrong. So I have the ability to choose to do what is absolutely right, rather than what simply feels right for me; but too often I make the wrong choice. Then, even if I don’t realise it at the time, later I often see that what I chose back then was wrong, and that all it has created is a mess. We see this in all sorts of ways, don’t we? From the mistakes people make in choosing a partner or choosing how to deal with others to the mistakes people make that pollute the world or damage the environment. As St Paul puts it : “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…….What a wretched man I am! (Romans 7:19..24) And then he asks the question “Who will rescue me?”
Our 2nd Reading (Romans 5:12-19) shows us that St Paul has already answered this question. For just as the story showed one man starting this all off, one man Jesus Christ gives all of us a different way. The old way for Paul was to try desperately to keep the law, to be perfectly good. But he realizes that this never really works. The more we try to be good the more we realize how much we fail. We are indeed “wretched.” The new way is the way of God. Yes, it means trying to be good, but only within the context of putting our trust in the loving action of God who comes to us as Jesus Christ, and by his one good act of sacrifice changes things for ever. We can never make ourselves right and good, but God can take away our wretchedness and make us know that we are surrounded by his goodness and love despite our many failures. Thus we can feel good about ourselves again, and can go out into the world to live, as much as we can, as He did, for others.
Our Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) shows us how this process by which Jesus takes on our humanity begins. He too is faced with the temptation to make wrong choices. This experience is clearly very important for him. Why? Because no-one was there. The power of evil was tempting him just as it tempts us from inside his head – Shall I do this….. or that? So, if no-one was there, only Jesus can have actually told his disciples later what happened to him. As they thought of him as good, they might well have been reluctant to speak of him being tempted, but he had obviously taught them that this part of his story must be told.
Why? Because they are our temptations too. If only I could make sure everyone throughout the world had enough to eat, that would surely solve the world’s problems. But we know, as he knew, that although feeding the world is a good thing, it doesn’t stop people choosing to do evil things, often very evil things. The world needs more than food “Man does not live on bread alone”
The next temptation is : if only God could just put everything right so that there would no longer be any pain or suffering. Then I could jump off a high building and no-one would get hurt. What a weird world that would be, where I could hurt people, even stick a knife into them, and they wouldn’t get hurt. But then nothing I did would have any consequences. My choices to do good or evil would be meaningless.
Finally I am tempted to make people good. If only I was in charge of the world instead of those politicians, I would put everything right. This is to forget that famous saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. No, as Jesus knows, this is another fantasy. Absolute power over others always leads to evil consequences. So Jesus chooses the road of love, of service, of suffering and ultimately of death. He chooses to enter into our real messy human world without an easy solution that appears to put everything right. That is why this Gospel at the beginning of Lent points us straight towards that second Temptation on Holy Thursday when he could have run away. But then Good Friday & Easter would never have happened.