Lent is here! You really can’t miss it, nor should you. Even if you weren’t paying attention you can’t escape all of the tell tale signs. Ash Wednesday, the first Parish Fish Fry, stations of the cross being offered and then of course there are the great readings Holy Mother Church gives us this week on the first Sunday of the Lenten season. In the recent movement of the weekly readings we have shifted quickly from a calm loving sense of reassurance to a freezing cold bucket of ice water dumped squarely on our heads.
Hey….wake up buddy! It’s not about you!
The first reading from the book of Genesis (2:7-9; 3:1-7) belongs to the second account of creation we are given of human beings. In the first story given in Genesis 1, the divine plan and purpose of human beings is given to us where God formed humankind in the divine image of God. The Hebrew word Adam meaning humankind.
In the language of symbol and metaphor, this second narrative illustrates the fundamental sin of human kind: Not content to serve as the image of God, the human race reaches beyond its limits to seize equality with God. Now lets think about that for a minute, because I doubt the average everyday sinner likely wouldn’t knowingly profess an aspiration of trying to be God. Would they? So what does that mean?
Let’s start with looking at why the serpent has chosen to make the case to Eve about dying versus not dying? You miss something big here if you just look at this moment in the narrative as being just about temptation – having something you shouldn’t – Father told you no, but you really want it anyway. No, the serpent is making an argument here about death and what will cause it: “You certainly will not die,” he says, “No, God knows 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.”
But that is just it – Eve did die when she bit the fruit. So did Adam. They did?Yes, they died supernaturally. To see this explained we have to shift forward to the New Testament; into the Gospel of John. We need to look at the story of Lazarus. In chapter 11, verse 10 Jesus tells us, “ ‘But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ He said this, and then told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.’ “ When talking about the Gospel of John here Scott Hahn likes to remind us that Jesus calls natural death sleep so that we may understand the severity of supernatural death. Eve did not physically die in the narrative when she bit the fruit of the tree, she died supernaturally – that was the great deceiver at his best.
So what happened next? What was the supernatural death? …..They became completely self-aware. Or perhaps it’s better said that they became completely self-focused and turned their attention away from focusing on God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us in paragraph 357: Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead. That was their death – stepping away from giving themselves completely to God.
The second reading in Romans (5:12-19) brings us back to that second creation narrative with a solution: …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.
Paul is reminding us here that Christ is restoring the covenant relationship. But like in the Genesis narrative let’s not miss that the Gift of Christ is the opportunity of supernatural life restored. The opportunity to life again as the image and likeness of God: His physical resurrection from death for our spiritual resurrection from death – from condemnation to acquittal. Christ dying for our sin(s).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in describing the nature of sin in paragraph 387, reminds us of how sin breaks us of our true purpose and what sin truly is: Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another.
In the Gospel reading (Matthew 4:1-11) the great deceiver is back. How could he miss not being there at the restoration of the covenant to recast the fall of man once again? Like in the creation story, what approach does he take? He tries to focus Jesus on self versus living in the image of God. Like with Eve, Satan tempts Christ to think of his own potential and capabilities outside of his created purpose. But this time, Love triumphs over the glory of man. It’s almost ironic that the reading ends with the words: It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
The gift of Lent, for all its blessings, by many is seen as an opportunity to redirect one’s life in more positive directions. This is true.
However, Lent isn’t just a self-help course for all of us self-aware enough to stand up in a room, say their name, and admit they have a problem. Lent is a season by which we are called to realign ourselves back into the image of God for which we were created. Lent is an opportunity to get intentional about living in relationship with Jesus Christ, living a life in communion with the body of Christ, and living a life of selflessness and love in full response to Grace! Lent is a time in which we can give our selves back to God.
Many of us look at the Lenten season thinking we need to give something up. A sacrifice for God. Time to break a bad habit. That’s fine, and Amen. But if you are like me, how often does that really just lead to replacing one bad habit with another? I gave up chocolate so I ate more pie instead. I gave up beer and ended up drinking more wine. I gave up fried foods and ended up eating more salty foods. I gave up watching TV and ended up living on Facebook. I gave up Facebook and…. (really… like giving up Facebook is a sacrifice). But that is just it, when we focus on self here – we fail because in the end we aren’t looking outwards. As we continue to fall victim to the great deceiver, we fail because we keep finding a way back to making it about us.
In looking at today’s readings – In looking at what Christ has restored for us – In looking at the opportunity we have been given in Christ – Instead of giving something up might we challenge one another this Lenten season to give something over? To give of our time, our talents or our treasure. To give to one another. To love someone we find hard to love. To spend time with someone who needs to be loved. To perform an act of charity purely for the joy of doing it. To give away something we don’t need to someone that could use it. Instead of making it about us, maybe we should make it about God. Maybe we could use Lent to find a way of being a better reflection of God, of living in his image?
There is so much opportunity out there. What can you do for someone else?