FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

 

 

 

Gen 2,7-9; 3,1-7

Rom 5,12-19

Mt 4,1-11

 

            The gospel of today presents Jesus to us, as the true Adam, the perfect man and faithful to the plan of God. The Adam of Genesis 2, who encountered death because of sin, will shine once more in the horizon of history in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Israel, that grumbled and had been unfaithful for forty years in the desert (cf. Ex 15-17; Num 11-14), finds in the Messiah, Jesus its full and authentic expression.

 

            The first reading (Gen 2,7-9; 3,1-7) constitutes a magnificent sapient reflection about man of all times. Contrary to what was affirmed until a few years ago, these chapters do not come from the ancient period of the Davidic monarchy in the 10th century B.C., but, as could be deduced from the vocabulary and theological themes, they are a fruit of a later and more mature wisdom tradition which, probably, has to be placed at the time of the exile (6th-5th century B.C.). Therefore, we find ourselves before a theological reflection in narrative form about the historical experience of Israel which involves the terrible dark night of the exile in Babylon: the people lost everything for having followed a wisdom different from God’s, which not only promises more than what it could later give, but also drags towards disaster and death.

            Chapter 2 of Genesis describes the ideal plan of the Creator, made of harmony and of light. Chapter 3, on the other hand, presents the outcome of an alternative plan that man had wanted to realize without God and whose tragic results had been experienced by Israel, and by all men and women, because all have sinned (cf. Rom 3,9; 5,12). Chapter 2 speaks of ’adam, a Hebrew collective noun which means “humanity”, a humanity called to live in intimate relationship with the earth (’adamah) but which received its whole existence from God its Creator (Gen 2,7).

            In Chapter 3, on the other hand, man is described as carried away by a wisdom and a voice different from that of God, represented in the serpent, symbol of the idolatrous Canaanite fertility cults. The words that the narrator places in the mouth of this animal represent the total and radical opposition to the word of God. The serpent, affirming that God does not want that man eats of any tree in the garden (Gen 3,1), symbolizes a whole wisdom (a mentality) that thinks of God as somebody who is bad, who does not like man’s life and that, in a certain way, is his rival. In the Bible, wisdom is a way of life, a way of thinking, a set of attitudes that orientates every day behaviour. The serpent represents the wisdom that leads to death, that is opposed to the plan of God and that pushes man to live idolatrously, placing himself as the new and only god. It is the drama of human history and of our every day life. It is the “original” sin because it is found in the origin of all sins.

 

            The second reading (Rom 5,12-19) presents to us two Adams, two humanities that are set against each other in history and in our daily life. The first Adam (Gen 2-3) represents the humanity that walks to death because of sin; the second Adam (Rom 5,12-21) is Christ and all those who, united with him and like him, follow the ways of God and make of the wisdom of the Word their guiding principle. Jesus lived the experience of Adam facing Satan’s suggestions and also repeated the experience of Israel tempted in the desert. Jesus, assuming all our weaknesses (Heb 4,15: “[he] was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned”), lived again our human experience before so many egoistic suggestions of pride, egoism and power.

 

            The gospel (Mt 4,1-11) relates to us the dramatic reality of “the temptation” of Jesus. Like the Adam of Genesis, an alternative plan was also presented to him, a “dia-bolical” suggestion (etymologically in Greek, the term indicates “separation”) that would keep him away from the ways God wants. It is what we call temptation.

            Three diabolical suggestions were presented to Jesus, which, in reality, are only one: the tempter likes that Jesus will renounce his condition as obedient Son of God manifested in his Baptism (Mt 3,13-17) and reduce the horizons of the kingdom to a measly human ideology that seeks to satisfy exclusively man’s material needs (temptation of the bread – earthly messianism); that manifests itself as perversion of religion which, instead of serving God, profits from him (temptation of the temple – magical and “miracle-working” messianism); and, that expresses itself as an oppressive and egoistic power (temptation of the mountain – political messianism). However, unlike the Adam of Genesis and the unfaithful Israel of the desert, before Satan’s alternative, Jesus remained faithful to God and to the wisdom of his word.

 

            The word of God invites us today to live in the desert of life united with Jesus the Messiah, the new and definitive Adam, the model of true humanity. As long as we act like the Adam of Genesis, we will encounter frustration and death because “by the offense of one man all died” (Rom 5,15), but if we live united with Jesus, the Messiah obedient to the Father (cf. Rom 5,19), through the power of his grace we will walk towards the true life without giving in to the temptation of the evil one because “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5,17).