1st Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes
God grew many lovely, fruit-bearing trees in the Garden of Eden, but only two trees are mentioned by name. In the middle of the Garden the Lord God placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Tempted by the Devil, Eve ate from the forbidden tree and “gave some to her husband—who was with her—and he ate it.” If only Adam had been willing to confront the dragon-serpent and protect his bride, perhaps even to lay down his life for her! But the first man did not do this and the whole human family fell. (Let men called to lead and protect their families take note.)
Then our Triune God said: “Behold! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! What if he now also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the Tree of Life, and eats of it and lives forever?” For this reason, God banished our first parents from the Garden. This was not from divine jealousy, but from divine concern for us. Imagine everlasting human lives lived in unending sinfulness; that would be a hell on earth. “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men…” But God promised Adam and Eve a redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head and save us from sin and death.
In today’s Gospel, that Savior undergoes the Devil’s temptations not in a paradise but in a desert. The ancient tempter approaches Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from this temple rooftop)… All (the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence) I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus refuses each of these diabolical suggestions.
If the Christ conjures bread for himself when hungry, then how can he refuse to fill every hungry mouth? But what good would our filled stomachs be if we are never delivered from sin and death? And if the Christ demands that God his Father protect him from every harm, then how could he ever offer his life’s blood as our saving sacrifice? And if the Christ submits to our enemy’s rule over this world, then how could we ever be free? Jesus Christ understands his messianic mission and where it will lead him. It will lead him to the Cross.
Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, and St. Paul calls him the second and final Adam. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus Christ the New Adam willingly and courageously lays down his life in battle with the Devil to save us, the Church, his Bride.
“[T]hrough one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
[T]hrough the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.”
One beautiful Mass preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time praises God with these words: “[W]e know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation…”
St. Paul’s tells the Galatians, “Christ ransomed us from the curse… by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree…” In the tree that is his Holy Cross, we now see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life combined.
During this Lent, contemplate the crucifix. Meditate upon the crucifix to know goodness, to behold God’s love for us. And gaze upon the crucifix to know evil, to see our sins at work. And ever-faithfully eat the fruit from this Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ himself given us at Holy Mass. As Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. …Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” God once said in the Garden: ‘You shall not eat of the Tree or even touch it, lest you die.’ But now Jesus invites us, provided we are well-prepared: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… given up for you.”
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