First Reading: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm: 51. R. v. 3a; Second Reading: Rom 5:12-19; Gospel: Mt 4:1-11
THE FRUITS OF LENTEN DISCIPLINE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
As we begin the first Sunday of Lent today, the Church presents to us in the gospel reading the temptation of Jesus by the tempter, the devil. Whenever this gospel narrative is read, we are often inclined to create a mental picture of a physical encounter between our Lord Jesus and the devil. We play these images in our minds as though the interlocution between our Lord and the devil was a physical one. But this is not the case. The devil cannot even stand the physical presence of Jesus; for light and darkness cannot co-exist. This is evident in the healing ministry of Jesus where the evil spirits in the possessed always trembled at the sight of Jesus.
Similarly, the narrative of the disobedience of Adam and Eve should not be understood literally as though it happened exactly as reported. Come to think of it, how could a serpent have an audible and comprehensible conversation with Eve? Isn’t that strange? If we saw an animal today talking to us in a language we understood, would that not scare the hell out of us? Therefore, what happened in the Garden of Eden and at the wilderness where Jesus was tempted is the reality of the temptation to sin which we face every day.
Have we ever wondered why God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden? If God wanted Adam and Eve not to eat from this tree, why would God allow it grow in the garden? Would God not have spared them this temptation if he had removed this tree completely from the garden? In like manner, as reported in the gospel of today; why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Does God lead us into temptation? Come off it, that’s not the case. It’s just that sometimes God allow certain things to happen to test our discipline and obedience to him.
Adam and Eve do not only need to enjoy abundance; they also need to learn discipline. In life, when there is no discipline, life becomes directionless with no purpose and meaning. And this can give room to excessiveness and careless living. So although God gave Adam and Eve everything; they also need to learn that they cannot have everything. Their prohibition not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil explains this. Adam and Eve hence need to learn discipline because their life has a goal. And what is discipline? It is the rightful use of the free will for the sake of the moral good.
The spiritual discipline of Lent therefore calls us to rightfully use our free will to curb our excesses. It is a reminder that we cannot always have everything we want. This spiritual exercise draws us closer to God and empowers us to war against satan and sin. Bread is good for eating but Jesus also knew that fasting from food was a weapon of warfare against evil. Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer fortified him to overcome and rebuke the tempter who tried three times to trick him into sinning but failed. Similarly, Lent invites us to pray and curb the excesses of the pleasures of life in order to war against sin and be drawn to our creator and God.
As we embark on this journey of discipline and self-restraint, let us beware of the devil the trickster. His major trick is always to intensify our hunger for the things we choose not to do as we strive for holiness. The devil will often whisper ideas to our ears that contravene moral discipline. He will try to discourage us that the spiritual heights we aim to attain is impossible or unachievable. The devil did this to Eve. He equally did it to Jesus. Eve fell to his tricks; but Jesus did not.
In this period of Lent, if we had decided to fast from hurtful words and fighting; this is the time that even the most annoying people will pick on us. If we had resolved to fast from visiting the tavern; this is the time that our most ungenerous friends would invite us to go splurging and drinking with them. If we told ourselves that we would not get even with our quarrelsome spouse; I assure us that now is the time they may do the unthinkable to us. If we had decided to fast from sexual immoralities; know that the desires to do them will most definitely be heightened this time around. And what does this say to us? This is the devil trying to trick us into believing that we cannot achieve what we set out to achieve. So beware of these voices.
There is also something very important that we need to be reminded in this period of Lent. This homily will not be complete without it. We must be very careful not to think that Lent is just a period to take a break from sin or a temporal time for self-restraint. We can see that Jesus did not only overcome the tempter who failed in trying to trick him three times. But he finally defeated the devil who had no choice but to walk away from him. Therefore, the discipline of self-restraint in this forty days period of Lenten is not just a transitory exercise, but a spiritual training tailored towards moulding us into becoming enemies to sin and accustomed to holiness. Such that when Lent is over, we see ourselves already moulded to the pattern of righteousness.
The author of the book of Hebrews says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11). Every training is tailored towards moulding an individual into becoming a new person and a living expression of the fruits of that training. This principle should saturate our Lenten exercise in this period of forty days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
So when Lent is over, it is expected that we all must have reaped the fruits of this Lenten journey into the wilderness where the Spirit have taught us how to use discipline and self-restraint coupled with prayer to war against satan and evil. So that living by these fruits of Lenten training we can always defeat sin and evil when confront with them.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, as we take up battle against sin and evil, may the discipline of self-restraint draw us closer to you and mould us to become accustomed to holiness of life. Amen.