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The word this week

Lent challenges us to ask: are we truly alive as God intended?

First Sunday of Lent: Gn 2:7-9 & 3:1-7; Rm 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

By on Thursday, 10 March 2011

“The Lord fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.”

The Creation narratives are not intended as scientific descriptions of the origins of life. They do, however, make important claims for the relationship between God and Man. This relationship was expressed through the imagery of breath breathed into the nostrils of man formed from the soil. We are only fully alive in a living relationship with God when we continue to draw life from that Spirit breathed into man at the dawn of history.

The early chapters of Genesis, properly understood, challenge us at the beginning of Lent. Are we truly alive, as God intended, in our relationships both with God and with each other? The Garden of Eden, with its rich abundance, was intended to describe the bliss of a life lived with God.

Our experience is very different. We carry within us a sense of loss, an emptiness that longs for God. The account of the Fall, Man’s first sin, roots this emptiness in a sin that reaches through our nature to the very beginning. We are frequently blind, as were our first parents, to the consequences of our actions. Lent is the opportunity to open our eyes, to realise how naked and vulnerable we become when we abandon God’s Spirit of life.

St Paul’s Letter to the Romans continues this reflection. For Paul, sin was more than a cold, forensic statistic. Sin was a power, a reign of death, stifling even the best of our intentions. His reflection is verified in our own experience. We are responsible for the choices that we make, but we cannot deny that our choices are led by a power that inclines us to self, the original sin that denied God.

St Paul spoke of salvation as deliverance from the power sin, the spirit of death that displaces God in our choices.

“If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life.”

Lent calls us to a fundamental choice: do we live according to the spirit of death that leads us away from God or do we live according to the Spirit of life given to us in Christ Jesus? We can do nothing during Lent without first confronting this choice.

The Gospel accounts of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness are, in their own way, a reflection on the choices that we make every day. Jesus was tempted as we are tempted; he made choices as we make choices. In the wilderness Jesus chose the life that he would lead as the Son of God among us. Rather than choosing to be fed by immediate satisfaction, Jesus chose to be fed by every word that came from the Father. Rather than presuming that the Father would save him from the choices he made, Jesus refused to put his Father to the test. Rather than seeking to manipulate the powers of his day, Jesus chose to worship his Father in heaven.

Jesus made these choices in the context of prayer and self-denial. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. He fasted in order to create the space that listens to the Spirit. Our Lenten fast, whatever form it takes, must quieten the many longings that clutter our lives. Only then can the Spirit lead us to our Risen Lord.