Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A By Fr. Jerome Ituah, OCD
Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 50(51); Rom 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11
Theme: Combating Temptation!
Genesis chapter one gives us a panoramic view of the creation of the human being. Our
reading today gives details of how the human being was created. He was fashioned from the
dust of the ground. In Hebrew, it sounds fascinating. God created Adam from the dust of
Adamah. So, there is a relationship between Adam, humanity and from where he was created,
Adamah, the ground. The human being was lifeless and mere dust until God breathed the breath
of life into his nostrils, and Adam became a living nephesh, a living soul or being. God then
put this human being in the garden of Eden with trees of every kind pleasant to the eyes and
good for food. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also in the garden.
The Genesis creation story tells us that the human being was created in a state of
original innocence, knowing only the good that God had presented to them. However, the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil was there before them. They had the freedom to eat every
tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Serpent, described as,
in Hebrew, arum, shrewd or crafty, came to the woman asking if God had asked them not to
eat of any tree in the garden. The woman said God asked them to eat of trees except for the one
in the middle, which they must not eat or touch under pain of death. The crafty Serpent then
told the woman that she would not die and that God knew that the day they ate of it, their eyes
would be open to knowing good and evil and become like God. The action of the Serpent is
what we call temptation.
The Greek word πειρασμός (peirasmos) in scripture could be seen in three different
ways. First, it could be a way of God’s examination of the human being. In this case, it means
‘test or trial.’ (cf. 1 Pet 4:12). Second, it could be an enticement to sin from within the person
or outside the person. We call that temptation or testing. That was what the devil did to Jesus.
He was enticing Jesus to sin against God, his father (cf. Matt 4:1-11; Lk 22:40). Finally, it
could be the human being putting God to the test (cf. Heb 3:8; Ps 95:9). The Serpent was only
enticing the woman to sin.
The woman was indeed enticed to look at the tree more intently. She saw it was good
for food (bodily satisfaction). It was pleasing to the eye (the quest for acquisition) and desirable
for knowledge (the pride of life, the desire to know everything). She could not resist the
temptation. She ate and gave some to her husband, who was beside her. He, too, ate, and their
eyes were opened. They realised their nakedness. They had died to their innocence because
they could not withstand the temptation.
St. Paul tells us this was how sin and death came into the world, a death that has now
spread throughout the human race. In the beginning, there was strictly no law given to Adam
and Eve. However, the inability of the first man and woman to withstand temptation and the
subsequent fall of humanity into various sins necessitated the law. The law was given through
Moses to distinguish between good and evil and help God’s children resist and combat sin and
evil. Still, the human mind was unable to withstand temptation. Jesus will reverse the ancient
fall and teach us how to fight the crafty ancient Serpent.
In the gospel, that same ancient Serpent comes with the same craftiness to entice Jesus
to sin. The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for the sole purpose of being tempted. This
action of Jesus was deliberate to teach us how to withstand the devil. We, too, are not immune
to temptation. Jesus prepared himself for the temptation. He fasted for forty days and forty
nights. Fasting helps us discipline the body. It denies the body some pleasure to make the spirit
alert to God. However, the devil knows when to attack and tempts us in our strengths and
weaknesses. The tempter observed that Jesus was hungry and capitalised on that weakness. He
asked him to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. But Jesus would not do the bidding
of the devil. He would rather mortify the flesh and stay strong in the Spirit.
The devil then wanted him to prove his strength since he could not use Jesus’ weakness
against him. He then wanted Jesus to demonstrate his power by throwing himself from the
pinnacle of the temple. Jesus would not fall to the temptation of pride. That would be doing the
bidding of the devil. Finally, he showed Jesus the kingdoms and glories of this world,
demanding that Jesus worship him to have everything back. That was probably the strongest
temptation for Jesus. Jesus had come into the world to reclaim what Adam and Eve willingly
gave to the Ancient Serpent through the fall. Satan promises to return everything to Jesus on a
platter of gold without him going to the cross to suffer. Again, Jesus would instead go the way
of suffering and pain than do the devil’s bidding. He is content with the will of the father. How
often do we like to take the easy road? And in taking the easy route, we do things that are
inimical to our faith and God’s word?
Notice that in all temptations, Jesus did not speak except by quoting the scriptures. To
face temptations, we must know the scripture and use it appropriately. However, notice that
the devil quoted back the scripture at Jesus to confuse him. But the key is Jesus knows the
difference between the voice of God and the voice of the devil. Whenever the voice wants us
to prove our strength instead of relying on God or doing something extraordinary to attract
praise and attention from human beings, there is pride, ego and selfish interest. We can easily
spot the devil’s voice in pride, power, and selfish interest.