February 26, 2023 at Saint Agnes Church in Naples, FL
Genesis 2, 7-9 & 3, 1-7 + Psalm 51 + Romans 5, 12-19 + Matthew 4, 1-11
In case you failed to notice, the readings that open this Great Season of Lent put sin right in front of us. It could and probably should make us uncomfortable. I’ve often said, and I believe it to be true, that the age in which we live is an age of denial. We don’t have sinners anymore. Therefore, we don’t really need the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. There are no sinners because no one has sins. We just have “issues.” Denial!
Sin is a reality, and today’s readings should make it clear that sin is there from the beginning and no one can escape confronting it. From “the man” and “the woman” in Genesis right up to Jesus Christ himself there is sin, and there is the option in the face of it to say “yes” or “no.” In the first reading, they said “yes” and they ate. In the Gospel, someone says “no”, and with that, a whole new way of confronting the reality of sin is set before us. It’s a lot better and more effective than denial. The difference really, is simple. The difference comes with recognition and acknowledgement. It’s sin. It’s wrong.
This Gospel has three explicit refusals. Jesus refuses and gives us an example of how to face sin. When we know something wrong, refuse to do it. That sounds very simplistic, but the Gospel reminds us that the way to begin resisting temptation is to recognize that sin really is sin. After that, the choice is there. Don’t sin.
Our observance of this Holy Season serves to strengthen our resolve in the face of sin. Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are extraordinary tools the wise can use in the face of sin. Prayer and Almsgiving work in two directions much like the Commandments that work in two directions: to God (first three commandments) and to others (the last seven). Prayer points us to God and Almsgiving points us to others. The virtue of fasting is a kind of rehearsal or exercise that provides us with the courage to say “no” and mean “no.”
Jesus confronts sin the desert, and that same sin is still before us. Satan tempts Jesus to be something other than God intended, a child of God. The suggestion is made that he should use his gifts for himself: feed people so they will make you special, do spectacular things to call attention to yourself, and use power to get what you want. Choosing Satan’s plan would be contrary to what God expected of his Beloved Son which was that he be a humble suffering servant. In the end, all sin might be reduced to one thing: the choice to be something other than what God has created us to be.
The reality that we see all the time is that heroes falter and ordinary people compromise. Each is a step into sin making it easier than the step before. Lent invites us into the desert to know our need for grace, wisdom, and strength in crises with the insight and knowledge to know and recognize sin for what it is. Now is the time to look to God in whose image we are made. Now is the time to look to others to see the image in which they are made. Now is the time practice saying “no” to what we know is wrong without any compromise. Only when we say, “No” and mean it will our, “Yes” to God’s will be credible in God’s sight.