Sunday, 1 March 2020 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the First Sunday of Lent, and as we begin the first in the series of five Sundays in this season of Lent, we are brought to focus our attention on the nature of this season of Lent as a time of renewal, rejuvenation of our faith, reconciliation with God and as a time for the forgiveness of our sins, through our repentance and forgiveness by God. The name of Lent itself came from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Lencten’ which means ‘Spring’ referring to the coming of the season of Spring after that of Winter.

That is why Lent is symbolically very important as a time of renewal and rediscovery of oneself, after the bitterness and darkness of our spiritual ‘Winter’ due to our sins and shortcomings, as a chance for us to reconnect with God, to be reconciled with Him and to find our place once again in God’s grace and loving embrace. It is a time for us to turn away from the excesses of worldly desires and greed, from the many temptations we find in the world, and focus our attention instead on God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today on this First Sunday of Lent as we remember again what we have just heard from our Scripture passages today, we focus on the theme of sin and temptation to sin, and then the freedom from those sins. We heard first of all the account from the Book of Genesis which showed us the moment of mankind’s fall into sin, when our first ancestors fell to the temptation of the devil, and then up to the Gospel, when we heard yet another temptation story, this time the devil tried to tempt the Lord Jesus as He went for forty days right after His baptism to the desert to prepare Himself for His ministry.

In the beginning of time, God created everything all good and perfect, and He made the first man, Adam and his companion, Eve, to live in the wonderful Garden of Eden. This means that mankind, all of us were actually meant to live with God in the fullness of God’s grace and love, to enjoy the wonders of God’s providence and blessings forever. However, this was not to be because we fell into sin as we were unable to resist the temptations to sin, which the devil, disguised as a snake, brought upon Adam and Eve.

What did the devil tempt them with? As Satan first approached Eve, he tempted her with the temptation of desire, the desire for the forbidden knowledge that God has expressly forbidden for man to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And Satan reasoned very cunningly that the fruit of the tree did not seem to be harmful, and how eating from the tree would bestow great knowledge upon man and made them to be like God. Through this temptation, Satan planted the seeds of pride and greed in mankind’s hearts.

Thus, according to the Book of Genesis, that was when mankind fell into sin, and therefore consequently were banished from the Garden of Eden to wander on this earth and suffer the consequences of our disobedience, which led to sin. Sin came forth because we did not obey God and in our failure to do so, we fell short of what was expected of us, and sin came forth. In the Greek language, the word sin is known as hamartía, which means failure to reach or grasp a target, or in summary, meaning of falling short of what one is expected to do.

God has blessed us and meant for us to enjoy forever the fullness of His grace and love, and He has set precepts and rules for us to follow. Yet, tempted by the devil, we succumbed to the temptations, and not just Adam and Eve, but all mankind ever since then, have fallen into all these temptations in various forms, and came short of our expectations in life to live a virtuous and good life as God’s beloved people, and thus we sinned. Sin has been with us since that moment when Adam and Eve fell, and it has corrupted innumerable sons and daughters of man since.

And the consequences of sin are dire, brothers and sisters in Christ, as sin is a defilement, imperfection and tarnish upon our humanity, and since God is all good and perfect, no impurity, imperfection and defilement can be present before Him. Our sins and shortcomings will end up destroying us if we dare to come before God with them in us, corrupting us and making us unworthy of God. Our shame and regret of having sinned before God would literally destroy us and prevent us from true reconciliation with our loving Creator.

This has been Satan’s plan all along, for he, once known as Lucifer, was once the greatest, brightest and most brilliant among all the Angels of God. Yet, in his brilliance and excellence, which should have been the showcase of God’s wonderful Light by his name of the ‘lightbringer’, he became proud of his own marvels and brilliance, and instead of shining with God’s light, he rebelled against God as he desired to overthrow his own Creator and rule over all instead. From his pride came greed and all other sins that we now know of, and he gathered many other Angels who supported him. But they were defeated and cast out of heaven.

Satan was unable to accomplish what he wanted, for he knew that he was no match for God, and he knew of his eventual ultimate defeat at God’s hands. But the least then he could do was to drag as many of God’s beloved ones, mankind, His pinnacle of creation into damnation and destruction with him. And that is why he brought to us the same defilements and sins he had with him, beginning with pride, and from there all the other forms of deadly sins we are familiar with, such as greed, lust, sloth among others.

And it seemed that Satan had achieved what he wanted, causing men to be sundered and separated from God. It seemed that mankind would perish altogether in hellfire with Satan, for they have sinned, and as the snares of sin were powerful, they would not have been able to be free of their bondage and therefore, would eventually fall into eternal damnation and endure the eternity of suffering with Satan and his fellow fallen angels.

But this is where we must not lose hope, for God ultimately loves us more than even the might of our sinfulness and wickedness, and all the efforts of Satan. His love for us has opened the path to redemption and salvation, by His sending of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God into this world to be our Saviour. Through Christ, all of us sons and daughters of man have received the full promise of pardon, forgiveness and reconciliation from God.

Satan knew this very well, and that is why he tried to tempt Jesus as well, which we have heard in our Gospel passage today. He tried to stop Him from achieving and fulfilling the mission which God the Father has entrusted to Him to save mankind. And Satan used the same old tricks and temptations to tempt Jesus as well, which we heard being elaborately put into place throughout the Gospel today. When Jesus went to the desert for forty days to prepare Himself to begin His ministry proper, Satan came to tempt Him right there and then.

He began with tempting Jesus with food asking Him to turn the stones into bread, knowing that He was hungry after many days having not eaten any food at all as He fasted for the forty days He was in the desert. But the Lord resisted and told Satan off, saying that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every words that come from the mouth of God’. This is a common temptation that we all usually face, the temptation of gluttony and greed, desire and want in our hearts, the weakness of our body and flesh to worldly desires that often made us to fall into sin.

The Lord Jesus obeyed His Father’s will and resisted the temptations of Satan, and He showed us that there are indeed things more important than worldly desires and the desire to satisfy our physical bodies and flesh, and that is to listen to the word of God and to follow Him wholeheartedly. It does not mean that food is not necessary or important for us, as we do need to eat and drink to sustain ourselves, but we must not be indulgent and obsessive over them. It is the attachment and excessive desire that we have for worldly things and pleasures that led us to sin.

Then Satan tried to tempt Jesus with his ace card, that is the sin of pride. He brought Jesus to the top of the Temple, using Scriptural quotations to tempt Jesus to show Himself off by jumping down from the Temple, and God would send His Angels as He Himself said to prevent Jesus from falling down and injuring Himself. This temptation was truly very cunning effort by the devil, who played on our pride, ego, ambition and desire, the desire for acknowledgement, praise and affirmation by others.

Again, the Lord Jesus resisted and said that we must not test the Lord by doing such things, by purposefully trying to test if God would fulfil His words, as this is tantamount of doubting God and His providence, and not having faith in Him. Satan was trying to use this as a leverage to gain control by playing into exactly that strong desire in us for recognition, power and glory, twisting into the pride and ego within our hearts and minds.

And last of all, we heard how Satan tried one last time by showing all the glories, wonders and riches of the world by offering them to the Lord Jesus if only that He would bend the knee to him and worship him. Jesus rebuked Satan sternly and commanded him to go away, saying that only God alone is worthy of worship. He resisted this last temptation, which again is a difficult temptation to be overcome, as it pulls upon the same desires within us that crave for worldly goods and pleasures, for worldly glory, power and wealth.

In what we have seen from our Scripture readings, which is also summarised nicely by St. Paul in our second reading today in his Epistle to the Romans, we can see the clear contrast between what happened to Adam and Eve, when mankind first fell into sin, and Christ, Who resisted all the efforts of Satan to tempt Him and sway Him to prevent Him from fulfilling His mission. Christ is indeed the New Adam according to St. Paul, as He showed us that it is not necessary that sin has the power over us. He showed us that it is indeed possible for us to overcome sin and the temptations to sin, as He Himself has showed us by resisting the three temptations of the devil.

But many of us continued to sin, and to fall into sin because first of all, we do not have enough faith in God, and the devil knows this very well. You can already see from today’s readings alone just how adept he can be in using even Scriptural quotes to twist our minds and perceptions to lead us further down into the path of sin and focusing on ourselves and our desires more rather than on God. And many of us are even unaware of our sins and faults, as for various reasons we refuse to acknowledge them.

We often fear sin because we may think that sin made us to be despised by God and God would condemn us into hell because of our sins. However, the truth is actually such that it is precisely by our refusal to repent from our sins or to seek God’s forgiveness that our sins cause us to fall into damnation. Brothers and sisters in Christ, God alone can forgive us our sins and unless we allow God to enter into our lives and forgive us our sins, how can we then be saved?

There is a saying by St. Augustine of Hippo that goes like this, ‘there is no saint without a past and there is no sinner without a future’. This is a reminder for us that even saints were once sinners, and some of them were even great sinners, like St. Augustine himself. But what is important is the fact that they all turned away from their past, sinful ways and allowed God to work through them, forgiving them their sins and making them to be great instruments of His will. God despised not us as the sinners but the sins which we have committed all these while.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we progress through this season of Lent, the forty days of preparation time before the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, let us all reflect on the preparation that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself undertook, in the forty days He spent in the desert, and the other ‘forty’ which is the forty long years the Israelites spent in the desert to atone for their rebelliousness before they could enter into the Promised Land. All of these show a time of purification and a time of struggle and challenge-filled journey that we ourselves are facing now.

We should not see the season of Lent as something that is dreadful and gloomy but rather as a time of renewal and rejuvenation as I mentioned earlier. Let it be the ‘springtime’ of our lives and our faith. The season of Lent is a God-given wonderful opportunity for us to renew ourselves and to be reconciled with God. God has always offered His mercy and forgiveness freely to us, but it is often us who ignored and rejected Him all these while.

That is why we should model ourselves on Christ, the New Adam, and break free from the chains of our sins through Him. Like Christ, we should be humble and obedient to God, shunning all forms of pride and ambition. He is the King of Kings and Lord of all lords, and yet, He rejected the glories of the world, resisted the efforts from the people and from His own disciples to make Him their King, and He humbled and emptied Himself to die a most humiliating death on the Cross for our sake.

And Christ did not allow pride to prevent Him from humbling Himself before God, to open Himself up as we all know how He agonised during the night at the Garden of Gethsemane, as He awaited the moment of His suffering and crucifixion. He prayed and prayed very deeply in communication with His Father, and this is a reminder for us that, we too, need God’s help, and the best way for that is through a deepening of our spiritual life through prayer.

Let us all make our Lenten season meaningful and fruitful, brothers and sisters in Christ, by spending more of our time in meaningful prayer, opening our hearts and minds to God, and allowing Him to speak to us that we may truly know what His will is for us. And let us also learn to be more humble and to get rid from our lives the vestiges of ego and greed, pride and ambition, and instead imitate the humility of Christ and His obedience in everything we do in our own respective lives.

May the Lord guide us through this season of Lent, that we may grow ever stronger in our Christian faith and that we may resolve to live in a more Christian like manner with each and every passing moments. May the Lord be with us always and may He grant us the courage and strength to resist the devil and all of his lies and falsehoods. May God bless us all and may He bless all of our Lenten observances and endeavours. Amen.