Sunday, 26 February 2023 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent, the first of the five Sundays of the season of Lent before we enter into the Holy Week, as we all prepare ourselves for the coming of the great mystery of the Passion of the Lord and all of His saving works, and the glorious celebration at Easter. On this Sunday we are all brought to the very beginning of how sin came into us and led us all into corruption and our downfall, so that hopefully we may realise just how dangerous and terrible sin can be, and why we have to remain vigilant and careful throughout our lives such that we do not end up falling down the slippery path towards damnation because of us being tempted to sin. It is quite easy for us to fall into sin unless we remain strong in our conviction and faith in the Lord, as how it had happened to many of our predecessors. And this is why we need to make good use of this season of Lent to remind ourselves to be more faithful and committed to God, resisting the temptations of sin.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Genesis the story of how the first mankind fell into sin, that is of Adam and Eve, the ones whom God created in the beginning of time. God created mankind after He had created the whole universe and existence, and prepared everything all well and good, crafting man in His own image. God made everything to be all good and perfect, and He intended for us to enjoy forever the happiness, bliss and joy of our existence, full of grace and love for God, for eternity. That is what why we had been created, to share in the love of God, and to enjoy the blissful existence in Eden as our ancestors had once enjoyed. Yet, unfortunately they fell into sin because they chose to listen to the sweet lies and falsehoods of Satan rather than to trust in the Lord and His love.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve by playing into their desires, their curiosity for knowledge and understanding, their willingness to try out new things and to experience what it may be like to know good and evil like how God Himself is all-knowing. Yet, it was by their disobedience against God that they allowed sin to enter into their hearts and minds, corrupting them and their descendants henceforth, and because of that, we have to wander off in the hardships of this world, away from the fullness of God’s grace and love. This is because sin and wickedness have no place before God and His perfection, His all good nature. Sin has therefore held dominion over us all ever since then right up to the moment when the Lord sent us His salvation, through none other than Jesus Christ, His own beloved and only begotten Son. Through Christ, all of us have seen, witnessed and received the perfect manifestation of God’s love.

The fact is that God truly loves each one of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. He could have crushed and destroyed us easily for our disobedience and wickedness, but He chose to be patient with us, reaching out to us with genuine love and compassionate mercy. He gave us His beloved Son because through Him, we are going to be led out of the darkness of sin into the eternal life and justification in God. This is what St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Rome has spoken about, as he highlighted to them all how sin had entered into this world through the first man, but then, God gave us the gift of His only begotten Son, to come into our world and becoming Man like us, as the Son of Man, so that by the perfect example of His obedience to the will of His heavenly Father, He may lead us all into the right path towards full reconciliation and reunion with the Lord, our loving Father Who loves each and every one of us, without exception.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul clearly highlighted the comparison and difference between what Adam, the first man had done, in listening to Satan instead of listening to God, choosing to obey the words of Satan together with that of his wife Eve, so that they ended up disobeying God and doing what the Lord had forbidden them to do, with Jesus Christ, Whom St. Paul mentioned sometimes as the New Adam, the New Man, through Whom He showed us all the example of perfect obedience to the will of God. Our Lord Jesus obeyed the Father’s will so perfectly and well, that He obeyed even when He had to bear the burden of His Cross, that is the multitudes of our many and innumerable sins, evils and wickedness, our faults and corruptions, all of which should have led us to our deaths and destructions. Yet, by His great and ever patient and enduring love, God Himself has willingly done all He could for us, so that by His most loving and selfless sacrifice on the Cross, He could save us from our fated destruction.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard how the Lord Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan after He was baptised in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist, at the beginning of His ministry in this world. In this quite well known story, at that time, the Lord Jesus went through a period of forty days of physical fasting and spiritual exercise in the wilderness and desert, where Satan came to Him and tried not just once but three times to tempt Him to stop His work and mission in this world, by offering Him the same kind of persuasions and temptations that He had once tempted our ancestors with. Satan struck with all of his persuasions, tempting the Lord with all sorts of the most dangerous temptations, by first striking at Him with the satisfaction of the flesh through food, and pride, and yet again another one through hubris, ego and pride, and finally the greed and desire for worldly glory and fame.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the allure of knowledge and greatness, so that by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, expressly prohibited by God, they could become equal like God, to be like God in His might and knowledge, tempting them with glory, power and knowledge, among others, which moved them to disobey the Lord and choose to walk their own rebellious path as Satan himself had done before them, instead of trusting in God and His providence. But this failed to tempt the Lord, Who as the Son of Man, the New Adam, showed us the perfect example of great obedience as He obeyed His Father’s will, and refused to bend to the demands of Satan, or even paying attention or any heed to his falsehoods, his sweet lies and wicked words. He refuted Satan’s claims and lies, and spoke courageously of the truth that He Himself has brought into this world.

When Satan tried to highlight to the Lord that He is the Son of God in order to make Him to be swayed by pride and ego, to do something for His own selfish gain and benefit, by turning the stones into bread to nourish Himself, the Lord rebuked Satan and rejected his effort in tempting Him, by saying that mankind do not live and survive on bread alone, but on every words that come from the Lord. Instead of doing something for the sake of His own benefit, the Lord chose to do what is most unconventional, and that is to do what He had done for everyone’s sake, in giving Himself to them all. Instead of turning the stones into bread for His own consumption, He, Who is the Bread of Life, chose to be broken Himself, and to offer Himself for everyone, in a most selfless sacrifice and offering of love, for the salvation of the whole world.

And when Satan brought the Lord over to the top of the Temple of Jerusalem, telling Him using the phrases from the Scriptures to try to trick Him and to make Him be swayed by the fame and glory that he offered, the Lord told Satan off once again, that one should not put the Lord to the test, which is an important reminder for each and every one of us not to lose faith in the Lord and His providence. Instead, we have to keep our faith in Him and put our focus on Him, and not to indulge in the desire to be seen or to be praised for our actions. Everything we do in our lives, all of them should indeed be to glorify the Lord by our own exemplary life and works, which should be in accordance to the will of God. We should not seek to be selfish and pursuing personal glory and satisfaction over our obedience and faith in God, and also our love for one another.

Lastly, the Lord also rebuked Satan when he showed Him the whole vastness of the wealth and the greatness of the world, as the latter desperately tried to bring the Lord to succumb to the temptations of worldly glory and riches, to no avail. The Lord told Satan off and rebuked him hard with the words that the Lord alone is worthy and ought to be worshipped, and not Satan. This last effort from Satan that was greatly rebuffed by the Lord struck at the very core of Satan’s own rebellion against God, as he aspired to ascend even the Throne of God and become the ruler over all of Creation. Essentially, the Lord proclaimed to Satan that in the end, the justice and goodness of the Lord will triumph over him, and that the faith in the Lord alone will lead us mankind to salvation through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. Meanwhile, Satan and all those who choose to side with him will be crushed and destroyed.

That is why, each and every one of us are reminded today at the early beginning of this season of Lent, that we must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the lies and false promises of Satan and all other tempters and those sent to convince us to abandon our path and journey towards the Lord. We have to be ever vigilant and not allow ourselves to be twisted and corrupted by our own pride, ego, arrogance, hubris, desires and greed, jealousy, lust and other things by which we often encounter serious obstacles in our journey of faith towards the Lord. We must follow the examples shown by Our Lord Himself, as well as the innumerable saints and martyrs, our holy predecessors, those holy men and women who have resisted the temptations to sin, the temptation of worldly glory, fame and ambition in our hearts and minds.

During this season of Lent, all of us are called and reminded to deepen our relationship with God through the three pillars of Lent, that we all should be well aware of. These three pillars are that of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and our whole season of Lent should be filled with them. Not only that, but when we carry out those actions and fulfil what we have been recommended to do during this solemn period of Lent, we should do them with the right intention and purpose, that is to bring ourselves closer to God and to restrain the many temptations from outside and within us, so that hopefully we may come ever closer to God and His salvation, and distance ourselves from Satan and all those who seek nothing else but our destruction and damnation. We should make good use of whatever opportunities and time provided to us, and do what we can to live our lives worthily of the Lord.

We must of course have a good and vibrant prayerful life, as for Christians, it is inconceivable for us not to spend any time in prayer. But our prayers must also not be one that is merely reciting and saying words, as we should use prayer as how it is intended to be, for us to communicate with the Lord. All of us may come to deeper appreciation of God’s love and actions through our interactions and time spent with Him in prayer and through our other means of reaching out to Him. And when we fast, we should do so because we want to restrain the temptations of our flesh, which can be indeed weak in the face of relentless attacks and temptations present all around us. We should not fast because we seek renown or praise for our actions, but rather we fast because we have that genuine and strong desire to distance ourselves from sin and come closer to God and His merciful love.

We should also be ever more generous, in almsgiving, that is in giving whatever we can spare for all those around us who are less fortunate than us. And almsgiving should not just be limited to material giving, but rather, should also include our time and attention, our love and care in particular for all those who are less fortunate and unloved, all around us. During this time of Lent, each and every one of us are reminded to sharpen the side of our humility and faith, deepening our relationship with God through charity and love, while at the same time rejecting Satan and all of his false promises and lies, and resist the many temptations all around us to commit what is sinful against the Lord. We are all called to be ever more faithful to God and to be good and worthy role models in our faith, inspiring many others to follow in our footsteps as well.

May God be with us always and may He empower us all throughout this Lenten season so that we may continue to serve Him and to walk in His presence, now and always. May God bless us all in our every good works, efforts and endeavours for His greater glory. Amen.