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Knowing Jesus, Knowing Yourself - First Sunday of Lent

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Who are you? Who do you belong to? Who do you really trust? These are just some of the questions posed by today’s readings. For many of us the answers may roll off the tongue quickly: a child of God, God, and God again. However, Lent invites us to ask various additional questions of ourselves: ‘But, do I really live like that? Is there a gap between what I profess and how I live? Am I afraid that giving myself over entirely to God might diminish me in some way? Do I keep a part of me back from God? Am I only giving myself provisionally to God? For me, at least, the answers become less comfortable at this point, and I’m grateful that the Church invites us into this period of preparation for not just Easter, but ultimately, our Day of Judgment.

However, today’s readings are richer than simple prompts to us to ask questions about ourselves. They invite us to reflect on the person of Christ, the only one in whom we can truly find ourselves.

One of the many titles of Jesus is the ‘new Adam’ and the fittingness of this title is brought out in today’s readings. In our first reading from Genesis we are given an account of Adam’s fall into sin from which Jesus has come to rescue us. In the second reading, Paul gives us a theological account of the death that Adam’s first sin brought about and the repercussions it had for us all. Yet this can be that ‘happy fault’ because he tells us that the graces that Christ has won for us far outstrip the magnitude of the Fall. Then, finally, in Matthew’s account of the temptation in the desert the contrast between the old and the new Adam is brought out, as we see Christ’s refusal to be taken in by the wiles of the devil in the context of the earlier Genesis account.

The ‘new Adam’ is not the only title that today’s readings bring to mind. Each time Satan addresses Jesus in the wilderness, he begins, ‘If you are the Son of God . . . ?’ This is the first time we see this title in Matthew’s Gospel and it’s a common pattern across the Gospels: evil spirits and demons recognise Christ for who He really is before His disciples do. We may notice that rather than challenging Jesus’s identity as Son of God, the devil poses the question of how Jesus will live His life as Son of God. Satan is tempting Jesus to behave in a way that goes against obedience to the will of the Father. Yet, as we would expect, the Word Incarnate remains true to the Word of God in the Scriptures. Jesus refuses to reject His own humanity, for, as we know, Jesus came not to destroy humanity, but to restore it, and to unite it to His own divine nature. Herbert McCabe OP comments as follows:

Jesus had no fear of being human because he saw his humanity simply as gift from him whom he called ‘the Father’. You might say that as he lived and gradually explored into himself, asking not just the question ‘Who do men say that I am?’ but ‘Who do I say that I am?’, he found nothing but the Father’s love. This is what gave all the meaning to his life—the love which is the ultimate basis and meaning of the universe. However he would have put it to himself (and of this we know nothing), he saw himself as simply an expression of the love which is the Father and in which the Father delights. His whole life and death was a response in love and obedience to the gift of being human, an act of gratitude and appreciation of the gift of being human. (God Matters, p. 95)

In conforming ourselves to Christ, then, we’re called to enter into the love of the Father and Son, and to respond freely in love. How might we do this? Well, one way, and a particularly important one in the context of today’s Gospel, is to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures. Today’s Gospel is, after all, an important lesson on the interpretation of Scripture. Satan seeks to tempt Jesus with His own words, but removed from their proper context. As Christian history has shown all too clearly when texts are used out of context they can become pretexts for our own concerns. We also do well to remember St Jerome’s maxim that ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’. Perhaps then one Lenten practise might be to give up some regular thing we do each day and use that time for immersing ourselves in the Scriptures instead?

Toby Lees O.P.

Br Toby Lees O.P.Fr Toby Lees is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic's, London.


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