Sunday, 6 March 2022 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we celebrate the first Sunday in the season of Lent, as we enter more deeply into this time of reconciliation and call to repentance that is characteristic of this season of Lent. On this Sunday, we are all reminded that God is our refuge, our salvation, our hope and the light amidst the darkness that surround us in this world. In Him alone lies our true happiness and freedom, and it is for this purpose that we observe this blessed season of Lent. All of our fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and other actions during this Lent are meant to lead us ever closer to God.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard of the words of Moses, the leader of the Israelites, who at that time in the later part of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, exhorted all the people of God to remember everything that God had done to them and to their ancestors. He reminded them all how God had loved and taken good care of their forefathers from the time of Abraham, his descendants and all who went to Egypt and where they prospered greatly as a nation, and where they were later persecuted and oppressed, enslaved and maltreated.

Yet the Lord showed His continued love for them, rescuing them all from their predicament and leading them out from the land of Egypt, as He led them by the might of His hands, crushing the Egyptians with ten great plagues and many other deeds, opening the sea itself to allow the people to walk through them without harm. These were all that the Lord had done for the sake of His people, and Moses was therefore reminding the people that they have to remain faithful to the Lord and renew their commitments to Him, rejecting the path of sin and evil.

The Psalm today echoed this sentiment as we heard its opening part, that those who come to rest in the shelter of the Lord, who entrusted themselves to Him shall always be provided for and will not be disappointed. For God has indeed shown us again and again His boundless love and compassion, and He has reassured us that no one who trusted in Him and placed their faith in Him would be lost to Him in the end. Sufferings and trials may come for the people of God, but they will triumph in the end with God.

Then in our second reading we heard the words of St. Paul the Apostle to the Church and the faithful in Rome, through his Epistle to the Romans. In that passage we heard the affirmation of the salvation that has been given to us freely through Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. As long as we believe in Him, trust in Him, and focus our attention on Him, our true and living faith will bring us towards God, regardless of our background, our history and our differences. We are all God’s one flock and people, all called to return to Him and be reconciled with Him.

In our Gospel passage then we heard the famous encounter between the Lord Jesus and Satan, His great enemy, as the latter tried to prevent the Lord from doing His mission in this world. At that time, just right after the Lord was baptised by St. John the Baptist at the River Jordan, He fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and Satan came to Him in order to tempt Him. Satan had dominion over the world through sin, because sin has held onto the hearts and souls of the children of man, enslaving them and keeping them chained just as how the Israelites was once enslaved by the Egyptians.

We may be wondering if Satan actually knew what the Lord was about to do and what His mission was. As the evil spirits in the occasions when the Lord performed exorcisms on the possessed testified, that they recognised Him as the Holy One of God, it was unlikely that Satan did not know Who the Lord Jesus truly was. Although He was in the form of Man, the flesh of the descendants of Adam and Eve that he once tempted and corrupted, but the devil must have recognised the Lord’s true Divine nature that was concealed within His person.

But the devil clearly knew that whatever the Lord had intended to do for mankind, it would not be a good one for him, for the Lord loved all mankind, all of His children and people, and He would surely not let the devil and all of his fellow demons, the fallen angels and wicked spirits from having their way and dominion over His beloved ones any longer. Thus, Satan must have attempted to tempt the Lord through His human nature and flesh, to manipulate the usual human weaknesses and desires in the manner that he had done towards Eve and countless other sons and daughters of man.

In the first temptation, we heard the devil tempting the Lord with food to eat, as He has been fasting for forty days without food or any sustenance. He must have been really hungry, for He is truly Man just as He is Divine. Hunger is a part of our human existence, one of the things that we can feel whenever we have not consumed any food. The devil told the Lord that He could just turn the stones there into bread and food for Him to eat, testing Him by saying that if He was indeed the Son of God, He could have done so easily. However, the Lord refused to listen to the devil and pointed out that one’s true sustenance came from the Lord and His words, and obedience to those words.

In the second temptation, we heard how the devil brought the Lord to a very high mountain and showed Him all the glory and wonders of the world, and told Him that He could have everything if only He bowed down in worship, worshipping Satan, for all the glory and wealth of the world. This was immediately rebuked by the Lord, Who told Satan off and clearly spoke that the Lord alone is worthy of worship, nothing and no one else is worthy of that, clearly not Satan or any other beings. This was the temptation of desire and greed, for worldly wealth and material goods.

Then finally, the last temptation is often the most dangerous of all, as the devil brought the Lord to the peak of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, telling Him that if He were to fall down from that height, according to the Scriptures, the Lord would not let Him to be hurt, and He would send His Angels to save and protect His Son. But in doing so, one would then test the Lord, testing Him whether He would really say what He had said He would do, and also, most crucially, in doing so, that would have revealed His great wonders and majesty before the many people gathered there, and would have therefore suited someone’s ego and pride in doing so. He rebuked Satan, and the latter, knowing that he had been defeated, went away.

Essentially, the devil was trying to tempt the Lord to be selfish, to be filled with greed and ultimately to succumb to pride, all of which would lead anyone to sin against God, disobeying His will, His Law and commandments for one’s own personal ambitions, desires and ego. Satan knew it all too well, for he himself had fallen into that state because of his pride and ambition, as Lucifer, the most brilliant and mighty among God’s Angels, who fell into the sin of pride, in desiring to rule over the Angels of God and in desiring the Throne of God for himself. He was defeated and cast out from Heaven, and then he tried to bring down man, God’s most beloved creation.

Satan himself fell, the many other fallen angels followed Satan to his rebellion, and he also tempted Eve and through her, Adam, and many other people, all the sons and daughters of man, who had fallen into sin. But the Lord showed us all, that we must not let sin to have any more hold on us. Unfortunately, as long as we allow ourselves to be swayed by pride, by our desire and greed, by our attachments to the world, we will fall again and again into sin. And the Lord then showed us that we do not have to remain bound by those things, as He resisted and rejected Satan’s temptations one by one.

What is important, as the Lord had said and mentioned, is that we must put the Lord at the centre and as the clear focus of our lives. He must exist at the centre of our lives and be the reason and emphasis of our every actions, words and deeds. We have to put our trust in Him and strive to walk in the path that He has shown to us all. And in doing so, we have to be more humble, rejecting pride, and to temper our desires and ambitions, rejecting the temptations of greed and desires, and to train ourselves to resist those temptations, and this season of Lent, we are given the perfect opportunity to do so if we have not yet done that.

That is why, during this season of Lent, all of us are called to practice our Lenten observances and actions with great and genuine faith, with clear understanding of whatever it is that we are doing, so that in all the things we do, we will always do it for the sake of the Lord, and not for our own selfish ambitions, our pride, ego and desires. Through fasting and abstinence, done right and focused on the Lord, let us restrain our human and worldly desires, for glory, power, fame and other material wealth and goods, resisting the excesses of worldly attachments and pleasures, and instead, learn to grow more in our faith and trust, in our love for God.

Then, we are also called to be more generous in loving one another, as Lent is the time for us to show God’s love even more to others around us. We are encouraged to be more generous in almsgiving and in caring for the less fortunate, not necessarily just in material terms only, but also in caring for those who are unloved and uncared for, those who have been ostracised and rejected by others. Let us extend our caring hands and hearts to them, and let us show each other what God’s love for us truly means, through our own genuine Christian love.

Let us all make the best use of this time that we have been given in this season of Lent, so that each and every one of us can draw ever closer to the Lord, and that we may grow ever more in our faith and dedication to God. May He continue to watch over us and strengthen us all in faith, and may He empower each and every one of us so that we may remain ever more deeply attuned to Him, and be ever more courageous to say no to Satan and all of his temptations and all the falsehoods he presented to us. Let us help one another to walk ever more faithfully in God’s presence, now and always. Amen.