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Readings for the First Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

1. Genesis 2, 7-9 and 3, 1-7

  • The Lord God formed man.  First, the story about how it all began, the first of the great readings we encounter in this most intensive season.  The relationship between God and humankind was first told in stories such as this.
  • Then the Lord God planted a garden.  We have all heard the saying that gardens bring us closer to God.  It has been planting time in our neck of the woods for a while.  In Eden everything is in order: various trees that were delightful to look at and good for food.
  • The tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge.  In other words, they were there within people’s reach, not behind a fence.  For the writer of Genesis, they were different trees.  Today, after unlocking the secrets of the atom and the genome, most of us would have difficulty telling them apart.
  • Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals.  It is important for me to emphasize that the Lord God made it.  We are not Zoroastrians and we do not practice fertility rites.  But since our culture has separated sexual attraction from fertility, I must be sure to emphasize “serpent” and “cunning.”
  • Did God really tell you?  I hear the language of suggestion here, and I will say it as a series of thoughts, building to a conclusion that seems satisfactory but is in fact ironic.  I want irony to drip off my lips when I get to “good and evil.”
  • Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.  Ah, the power of suggestion!  Then they sought the fountain of youth; today we have Viagra.  I will have a lot of fun with the punch line at the end of today’s reading.
  • She saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing and desirable.  And we, balanced precariously between global warming and nuclear winter, also want to exploit trees, minerals and scarce resources in general for our own benefit.  Would that be the original sin in terms of ecology?
  • She took some of its fruit and ate it and gave some to her husband.  Yes, God commanded them not to eat of the fruit; that led to disobedience.  At the same time the tree was not cordoned off from the rest; and that led to irresponsibility.
  • The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that  Here is where I pause and lick my lips for the ironic words of the story: they were naked.  Today we would say that they were asking for it.
  • Climax: Know what is good and what is evil.  It sounds conclusive but in fact it isn’t.  Most things good and evil appear among us as if they were weeds and wheat growing together.  Like earth, air, fire and water they can be life-giving at one time and deadly at another.  Of course we long like Eve for definitive answers, objective goods and evils as it were.  I will say it with finality, in the voice of a huckster, but with an ambiguity worthy of the Delphic oracle.
  • Message for our assembly: We claim our rights in our society.  Can we also take possession of responsibilities for one another?
  • I will challenge myself: To enjoy the telling of the story simply, touching these points very subtly.

2. Romans 5, 12-19

  • The apostle has his own take on the story we have just heard.  Through one man sin entered the world.  I hear the word “sin” nine times.  It means many things in our tradition, all of them based on a turning away from God, on self-centeredness.
  • I hear mention of “the law” because most of his listeners then were practicing Jews.  It is not the focal point of this complicated passage, so I will pay less attention to it.  The key words for me are gift (five times) and transgression / disobedience (six times).
  • The gift is not like the transgression.  I hear the central point of all revival preaching.  We are all prostrate, doomed to death, but not abandoned.  When I reach this paragraph, I have reached the main message of the apostle and I start gaining traction. 
  • The transgression of the one  the gift of the one.  We hear this contrast five times in a row.  With each I build toward the conclusion: our return to God’s good graces.  Listen to the marks of that return: grace of God, acquittal, justification, life, becoming righteous.
  • Does the apostle’s interpretation of the story fit with my comments on the first reading?  Of course.  The ills that beset us all, and the technological pit into which we have fallen, are born of our worship of ourselves and our social constructions.  I remember the enticing Terre des Hommes theme of Expo 1967 in Montreal.  I cringe for every time I have heard national hymns played and sung at mass.  Let us not candy-coat the one righteous act, the humiliation and criminal death of Jesus, especially in Lent!  Because it is a rejection of everything we hold dear.  See the Gospel for today.
  • Climax: Through the one Jesus Christ.
  • The message for our assembly: Do we look on ourselves as sinners, no greater or lesser than our neighbor?
  • I will challenge myself: To read with understanding, my eyes on the Savior.

Gospel. Matthew 4, 1-11

  • Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  So now I hear the anti-Genesis story, the story that trumps the revolt in the garden.
  • The tempter is once again suggesting a way out for Jesus.  All of them are normal kinds of behavior for those who want to get ahead in this world, as told in other scriptures (Time, Business Week, The Apprentice, etc.).
  • Jesus answered him from Deuteronomy, always attentive to the Lord your God.  Not such a bad way to begin Lent, our eyes on Jesus as he embraced God’s will and not his own.
  • Climax: The Lord your God shall you worship.
  • Message for our assembly: Remember the second reading.  Do we feel swept up by the stand of Jesus against the tempter?  Is our own fate at stake in the desert?
  • I will challenge myself: To portray a decisive, self-emptying Jesus.  What do we expect to find in a desert?  The Gospels are not about a wimp! 

From Word to Eucharist: Are we aware of Jesus present with us today, in the host and cup, in our neighbor, and of course in these powerful words?

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