Thomas D. Stegman | Feb 7 2008 - 12:22pm | 0 comments
The gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is the testing of Jesus in the wilderness. After fasting for forty days, Jesus is subjected to the devil’s temptations. I have always been struck by how the devil prefaces his first two attempts to trip up Jesus (at least in Matthew’s account): "If you are the Son of God, . . ." The verse just prior to this passage, however, has made it abundantly clear that Jesus is in fact God’s beloved Son, as the voice from heaven declares in the immediate aftermath of his baptism (3:18). Therefore, the issue raised by the devil is not whether Jesus is the Son of God. Rather, Matthew’s version suggests that the question is: what kind of Son is Jesus going to be? We usually think of temptation as enticement to sin and evil. I suggest that we broaden the concept to include any enticement – whether within or outside of us – that allures us to choose to become other than the person God is calling us to be. The devil tries to get Jesus to succumb to his hunger, to put on a dramatic spectacle, and to grasp after worldly power. But we would be mistaken if we thought that, after enduring an intense period of testing by the devil, Jesus was never tempted again, at least in the broader sense defined above. Throughout his gospel Matthew goes to great pains to portray Jesus as the obedient Son who constantly enacted righteousness by being faithful to the Father’s will. Jesus did not succumb to the lure of "success" or to discouragement. He remained faithful to God’s plan for him, even in the face of rejection and abandonment and condemnation. (Paul alludes to this radical nature of Jesus’ obedience in today’s second reading – Rom 5:19). That Jesus was tested to the very end is evident from the taunt of the passers-by as he was hanging in agony: "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt 27:40, a detail unique to this gospel). To the very end Matthew presents Jesus as the faithful, obedient Son of the Father. How can Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of temptation speak to us today? The first reading, from the second chapter of Genesis, suggests one possible appropriation. There God is depicted as a skilled sculptor who carefully creates human beings from the clay of the earth. This image of God is worth pondering. It intimates that each one of us is a master piece of God, lovingly molded and shaped to reflect something of the divine image (cf. Gen 1:26-27). At the most basic level, then, it can be claimed that one’s fundamental vocation in life is to grow into becoming more and more the person God has made and called one to be. Viewed from this level, each one of us is irreplaceable. The Church’s selection of readings this First Sunday of Lent thus provides rich food for thought and contemplation. How cognizant am I of being uniquely created in God’s image? How grateful? How do I experience temptation, those voices within and without that entice me from embodying and revealing God’s image to others? Am I willing to "return to the Lord" and believe that now is "a very acceptable time" to seek healing and forgiveness (as the Ash Wednesday readings invited us)? Do I want to be more conformed to Jesus, whose obedience to the Father has unleashed the power of the Spirit to restore us in the divine likeness? In short: what kind of son or daughter of God am I becoming? Thomas D. Stegman, S.J.