1ST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A ON MARCH 1ST, 2020 (R. 1: Genesis 2: 7- 9, 16- 18, 25; 3: 1- 7; Psalm 51: 3- 6, 12- 13, 17; R. 2: Romans 5: 12- 19; Gospel: Matthew 4: 1- 11)
REVD FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
KNOW YOUR IDENTITY; BEWARE OF YOUR TALENTS!
I want to begin with four questions. I will pause briefly after each question to enable you to answer them in your mind. Do not overthink it; go by the first answer that comes to your mind for each item. 1: Who are you? 2: What is the meaning of who you are? 3: How do you feel about who you are? 4: What do you do with who you are? “Know thyself,” or “Man, know thyself,” is a saying which has been attributed to some Greek Philosophers. It is most commonly attributed to Socrates. Its interpretation is that self-knowledge is the foundation of all knowledge. It is when we have known ourselves that we can move on to understanding others.
Jesus had to struggle with this same question of self-identity / self-knowledge right from his childhood. It is not unlikely that like any child, he must have asked Mary and Joseph questions about his identity, and probably, unsatisfied with the answers he got, he remained with the elders in the Temple at the age of twelve to ask them such questions that would help him in his search for his identity. At his baptism, a voice came from heaven to answer the question of his identity, saying, “This is [You are] my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 17)
With his identity revealed as the Son of God with whom God is well pleased, the next question became, “But what does it mean to be the Beloved son of God with whom God is well pleased?” The Spirit then led Jesus into the desert, where he fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights in search of the implication of his revealed identity. It was at the end of his prayer and fasting that the devil came to suggest to him the implications of his revealed identity.
“If you are the Son of God…” The devil started by reminding him of his identity that was revealed at his baptism in the Jordan. After reminding Jesus of his identity, the devil went on to explain that if that identity is true, then Jesus should be able to command the stones to become bread and eat. Jesus replied, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” For the second time, the devil came back with another suggestion on the implication of the identity of Jesus. “If you are the Son of God…” for your sake, the law of gravity will be suspended. Interestingly enough, the devil quoted the Scriptures to support his false theology. Since Jesus talked about living by the word of God, the devil decided to quote from that word to back up his false theology. “He will command his angels concerning you, and with their hands, they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91: 11- 12). Jesus showed his superiority in his understanding of his identity and the Scriptures by saying that you do not put yourself in danger, so God can protect you and show others that you are indeed God’s Son.
Our identity, and the talents we have, usually provide the ingredients which the devil uses to tempt us. The devil is correct in identifying our identity and our talents, but he twists the implications to derail us and get us into trouble.
In the first reading, God had just given the special gift of a beautiful garden to Adam and Eve and based on that gift, the devil came to tempt them, and they fell. Different commentators have given various suggestions as to what happened. Some have even added that God did not intend to ban Adam and Eve from the fruit permanently. They suggest that it was only a temporary law. The Serpent lured Adam and Eve into working based on their timetable rather than that of God. They saw no reason why they shouldn’t eat it NOW since it was “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” For them at that point, it was “Now or never!” it was “My way or the highway.” But in the case of Jesus, he was patient enough to wait upon God’s time, which is always the most rewarding. The same Jesus who would not turn stones to bread would later multiply loaves of bread and fish to feed the crowds at God’s appointed time. The same Jesus who would not jump from the parapet of the Temple would later walk on water at God’s appointed time. Jesus did not come to show off; he came to use his power to save us.
In the third temptation, the devil promised Jesus earthly political power if only Jesus would bow to him. The devil was offering Jesus a shortcut to glory. After his resurrection, Jesus would say to his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 18- 19). The devil promised the kingdom of the world, but when Jesus waited upon His Father, he got both heaven and earth. The victory of Jesus came from the fact that Jesus viewed his identity through the eyes of God. He denied himself of any self-gain or glory.
The temptations of Adam, and Eve, and those of Jesus came from their talents and identities. Our temptations also come from the same sources. “If you are a man, I dare you to drink and drive.” “If you are a man, show us how ‘good’ you are with drugs.” “If you are a man, I dare you to beat up your wife.” “If you are beautiful, I dare you to seduce that man.” “If you are rich, tell a lie against that poor man, take him to court, and get him imprisoned.” If you know yourself, you do not need to prove yourself to anyone; just be yourself. The talents that God has given us are not meant for show off; neither are they meant to be used against those who are not as talented as we are. They are meant to glorify God and to help those who are not as fortunate as we are.
For St. John Chrysostom, the central lesson from the temptation of Jesus is that the longing for more is the most powerful of the temptations. You know a rich or poor person, not by how much the person has, but by how much more the person wants to have. In this season of Lent, and always, let us imitate Jesus in his victory over Satan, so that just as the angels ministered to him at the end, they may also receive and applaud us at the end, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.