First Sunday of Lent – Year A

26 February 2023

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

First Sunday of Lent – Year A


[Genesis 2:7-9, 16-18, 25; 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4:1-11]

On Friday, the world marked, with great sadness, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Vigils were held around the globe, including one here in Edmonton on the grounds of the Legislature. At that event, people of Ukrainian citizenship and heritage, together with many standing in solidarity with them, braved the frigid temperatures to protest against Russian aggression and pray for peace. Let us all be sure not to tire of lifting up our prayers for a rapid end to this war and a lasting peace.

Over the past year, there has been no shortage of commentaries offering analyses of this war, usually from political or military perspectives. What insight is offered by the Word of God? What light is shed on this terrible reality from the biblical point of view? In point of fact, the scriptural texts we have for this mass take us to the very heart of the issue and help us to see, from the divine perspective, what is really happening.

What the biblical passages show us is this: in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have on graphic and grotesque display a perpetuation of the original sin of Adam and Eve. As we reflect upon this, the light of understanding shed by God’s Word upon this particular situation will also raise for our own way of living questions we do well to ponder as we embark upon the journey of penance in this season of Lent.

The invasion by Russia into Ukraine is a manifold outrage, two dimensions of which I highlight here: it is a violation of the sovereignty of another nation and a refusal to accept its borders. Underlying and impelling this is a rejection of God’s sovereign rule of love, justice, and peace, and a repudiation of the borderlines imposed by the divine commandments, which prohibit injustice and enjoin us to love. Here we have the essence of the original sin: the refusal of sovereignty and disregard of boundaries. This understanding emerges as we ponder the symbol of the tree in the Garden of Eden.

According to the account from Genesis given in the first reading, there stood in the midst of that original garden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the divine prohibition was an invitation to Adam and Eve to accept their limits as creatures, that is to say, to acknowledge their dependence upon God, and simultaneously to accept His rule over their lives with trust in His providence and wisdom (cf. CCC, 396). When our first parents disobeyed this command and ate the fruit of the tree, they, in effect, violated the sovereignty of God over their lives and, seeking to be like gods, refused to acknowledge the limits, the borders, if you will, established by their nature as creatures.

We can see here that God’s Word not only gives deep and true insight into the tragedy continuing to unfold in Ukraine but also brings a penetrating light to bear upon our own hearts. How am I, in my daily thoughts, decisions, and actions, replacing God’s sovereignty with self-determination? In what ways am I refusing the reality of limit, and seeking instead to be like the unlimited God? To assist our self-examination, let’s turn now to the Gospel text. It gives us St. Matthew’s account of the temptations launched by the devil against Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness.

When the devil first tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, the Lord replies: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We accept the sovereignty of God over our lives by seeking out His Word, listening to it carefully, and following it in obedience. Am I rebelling against divine rule by turning aside from God’s Word to listen instead to books, articles, websites, social media influencers and the like that lead me away from fidelity to the Gospel?

The devil next tempts Jesus to put God’s goodness to the test by acting against his human nature in jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple. This would be a betrayal of his trust in the Father, so Jesus refuses to do it. What testing do I do of God? Do I misuse his gift of protection by testing or refusing my limits, that is, by acting in ways I know I should not, or undertaking things I know I cannot do?  Do I in any way try to force God’s hand by setting my own agenda for the way I shall live?

Finally, the devil pretends to offer Jesus possession of the world’s splendour if Jesus would worship him. This most horrifying of all the temptations is to repudiate the Father entirely, and thus poses the question that leads directly to the foundation upon which we build our lives: “who is to be worshipped?” With an authority and power that sends the devil packing, Jesus sternly asserts the first commandment: “Worship the Lord, your God, and serve only him.” What are the idols I worship in place of the living God? Am I so entirely focused on the illusory splendours of this world that I worship by their pursuit such idols as possessions, reputation, position, or achievement?

All of the devil’s temptations, from that by which he seduced Adam and Eve to those with which he attacked Jesus, have this in common: they are based upon the lie that God is not to be trusted. Yet Jesus, by his resistance to the devil, by all his teachings, and above all by his death and resurrection, has demonstrated clearly that God is fully worthy of our trust; that we can, and must, surrender trustingly to his sovereign rule and accept our limits with deep faith that God’s love will always provide for our every need and prove victorious over all evil.

May the Lord Jesus, who comes to us now in the Eucharist, enable us by the strength of his grace to resist all temptation, and to live as the children of God, trusting always in the divine love and mercy, which will never fail us.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
February 26th, 2023