Gospel For Today: 1st Sunday of Lent


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In today’s gospel reading (Mt 4:1-11), Jesus does something interesting.  He fasts for forty days and forty nights.  The Church gives us this reading of Jesus fasting in the desert at the beginning of Lent, when we as a Christian people begin our own forty day fast.  But have you ever wondered why Jesus was fasting at all?
Perhaps we should start by asking why we fast.  Whenever the Catechism speaks of fasting, it is always in the context of penance (CCC 1434, 1438, 2043).  So what is penance?  Again, if we look up the definition in the Catechism we learn penance is “a conversion of the heart toward God and away from sin, which implies the intention to change one’s life because of hope in divine mercy” (1431).
So it is good and necessary for us to fast, to help us change our life and turn our hearts away from sin and toward God.  But the question remains: why did Jesus fast?  Jesus is the sinless One.  Jesus is the Son of God, the divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  He is the Incarnate Word.  He is Lord.  Jesus certainly did not need to turn his heart away from sin and toward God, because His heart remained united with God always.  Yet Jesus began His public ministry by retreating into the desert and fasting for forty days.
Immediately before this passage in Matthew’s gospel we read of Jesus’ baptism.  We could ask the same thing about this.  We are baptized for the remission of sin.  So why was Jesus baptized?  John the Baptist had a similar question.  He told Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus told him, “It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:14-15).  Jesus was baptized not for the forgiveness of His sins, but to bless the waters of baptism for the forgiveness of our sins.
Likewise Jesus fasted not as penance for His sins (which were none), but as penance for our sins.  This is the purpose for which the Son of God came into the world; to take the sins of all mankind on His own shoulders and bear the burden we cannot bear, pay the price we cannot pay, and so open the door of reconciliation and lead us back to God our Father.
Man has lived under the oppressive burden of sin since the beginning, when Satan first slithered his way into the Garden and Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation.  We are reminded of this story in our first reading at Mass today (Gen 3:1-7).  What Satan temps Adam and Eve with in the Genesis account sounds pretty good to us.  He tempts them with knowledge.  Knowledge is good thing, right?  What is wrong with wanting knowledge?  In and of itself, nothing.  Except that the manner Satan tempts them to gain that knowledge requires disobedience to God.
Satan is also there with Christ in the desert, tempting our Lord.  Look what Satan temps Jesus with, as He is fasting for our sins:  bodily comforts and pleasure.  Jesus is hungry after a forty day fast, and so Satan tempts Him to use His power to turn stones into bread.  What is wrong with eating bread, we may ask?  Nothing at all.  Satan tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world.  What is wrong with that, we may ask?  Don’t all of us desire power and influence, affirmation, comfort, and the like?
Just like he did in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempts Christ with things that appear to be good.  But there is always a catch.  In this case, Satan was attempting to distract Jesus from His mission of fulfilling God’s will by suffering for our sins, thus reconciling man with God.  Sin is like this for us.  It always appears to be good, and often even has good aspects.  After all, if there were nothing good about our sins, they would not tempt us.  Food is good, but gluttony is a sin. Sex is good, but lust is a sin.  Wine is good (Jesus enjoyed it!), but drunkenness is a sin.  Every sin has an element of good, and that is what attracts us.  But sin also requires us to turn away from God; to use and enjoy that good in a manner that is contrary to His will and His love.  Sin turns the focus on ourselves and away from God.
Adam and Eve succumbed to this temptation.  But Jesus did not.  He resisted, and like Christ we, too, can resist and say, “Begone, Satan!” when tempted by our own devils.  Our Lenten fast is designed to strengthen us and prepare us to resist sin.  We give up things that are good, things we enjoy, to remind ourselves that God is the ultimate good and no lesser good is worth losing Him.  If we can voluntarily detach ourselves from personal pleasures, it makes it much easier for us to resist the temptations we will face to indulge in pleasure contrary to God’s will.
The Church no longer requires us to keep a strict Lenten fast as it did generations ago.  Our fasting in this age is voluntary.  But if we desire to be disciples of Christ, if we desire to follow Him into the desert this Lent, we will find ways to fast in our lives.  We will find ways to practice detachment, and so prepare ourselves, like Christ, to be victorious over Satan and his temptations.
May this Lent strengthen you and encourage you, and draw you closer to God through Christ.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723