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FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT A20

Let me quote Blaise Pascal's words, “all the misery of mankind comes from not knowing how to sit still in the room.” All the mistakes and the troubles caused by mankind (including you and me) in the world/the existing cosmos created by the invisible supernatural being we call God can be traced back from our failure to calm ourselves down. On Ash Wednesday, we entered the season of lent, a special time to seriously recollect, to gather our scattered pieces and sincerely examine our lives. It is a sacred time to engage in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is intense. It is time-consuming. 

To prepare for his public ministry (Matthew 4: 1-11), Jesus fasted (a humble act before God) for forty days and forty nights in the desert - the abode of evil spirits). We don’t know how he physically sustain himself but over a month of fasting will surely make anyone hungry afterwards. There are three dialogues between Jesus and the devil – the tempter, the tester, Satan. He was taken to three different places: wilderness, temple and mountain. The temptations were about his identity as Son of God, his divine origin. In his temptations, he remained victorious. In a world that appears to be controlled by evil forces, he demonstrated his power by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy chapters 6-8. His response to the first temptation is, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3)”. To the second test, he says, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test (Deut. 6:16)”. To the third, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve (Deut. 6:13)”. Get away, Satan! The first Adam disobeyed, the second (Christ) redeemed us. His temptations of material vs spiritual bread, trust in ourselves vs trust in God’s power, worship God vs other gods are our temptations, too.

On the first Sunday of Lent, he invites us to do the same, to join him in the battleground. He leads us into a familiar scenario. The spirit drives us into the desert, a dry and arid land where there's nothing except a space and time “to lengthen” (German word for lent) our relationship with God. Lent is a boot camp, a spring training for strength and conditioning to prepare for the long haul. For us who live in the desert, it's easy to imagine what it means to be led in the wilderness. If you've lived long in the desert, you know it's tough to survive. And if you do, you can live anywhere in the world.

The spirit summons us to spend a great deal of silence and solitude in the coming weeks on top of our packed and busy schedule. We’re going to squeeze and stretch our time. I understand we’re giving up sin but minimal use of phones, social media, TV, internet to divert and channel our precious time and energy for prayer will definitely help. In our solitary moment, we will experience disappointments and frustrations as we slowly discover and confront our pride, resentments, grudges, selfishness…to name a few. We get to know clearly our temptations, our demons, shortcomings, blessings and gifts. After this, I can almost guarantee, we will come out alive, transformed and spiritually reawakened. 

In these forty days of lent, I invite you to spend if you can (an hour, 30 min or 15-minutes) of daily quiet time with God. This special closeness with God called solitude is also a time of extreme danger and great temptation as we will be exposed into the pernicious workings of the devil. However, once you decide to break your routine and seriously make prayer a habit-the new daily drill, the devil will be very worried about you and you will be his prime target. If you take time to examine yourself, your life and relentlessly search God, he will interfere into your personal life and stop you. Drive in the middle of nowhere, go hunting in unfamiliar terrain and you'll experience extreme danger and fear among wild beasts. Behind wheels, you can lower your window to get a breath of fresh air, turn your car stereo's volume at max level and sing on top of your voice but you can also do the exact opposite, that is, lower the window, turn off music and talk to God about anything. 

This Sunday, SIN AND TEMPTATION is the main theme. The first reading from the book of Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7 presents the creation of the first man, his placement in the garden of Eden, the temptation (the dialogue between the serpent and the woman), the fall and the account of sin. Genesis 3 carries a lot of weight in Christianity. In fact, the doctrine of Original Sin emerged from this episode of the fall. Humanity came from a Hebrew word ‘Adamah’ meaning ground/dust. Although this is a significant text to reflect on creation, we will spend more time on sin and temptation. In the scene, the snake appears unexpectedly and interrupts the perfect life in the garden. Then, the snake engages the woman in conversation about the Lord’s instruction, ‘you will not die’ (Genesis 3:4). The serpent, described as the most cunning of all the animals, a great manipulator. The serpent represented by the snake is a fallen and rebellious creature. The author inserted this mysterious character here to tell us the masterful power of the devil that is capable of ruining any decent life of an individual or institution (religious and secular). I’m sure you’ve heard stories about good people gone bad. Knowing him/her, I can’t believe he/she did that. He/she was such a good and holy person. I don’t know what happened. The reason for any fall from grace is, has and will always be the inscrutable power of the evil one. Movies, documentaries, TV shows, telenovelas share the same idea. Humans are vulnerable to temptation. Mankind easily fall into deception. There’s a saying, I trust you but I don’t trust human nature because it’s prone to fail. That’s exactly what happened. The woman was deceived about the possibility to be like God able to know good and evil. The cause of sin then is the desire to be like God. The inclination to be like him is the reason for the fall. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, is it fair to be like him? No, it was disobedience. It was idolatry. But how come it was the woman who engaged with the serpent and not the man? Good question. Blame it on the author. We’ll discuss it some other time. Accordingly, woman was overcome by the desire for wisdom as many of us do, ate the forbidden fruit and immediately, her eyes were opened. Realization comes after the fact. Regrets come at the end. And yet, sin is known by faith. Amen. 

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