1st Sunday of Lent Year C
Theme of the week: This lent, let us turn away from sin, worship God, and offer to Him the best fruits of our labour.
The First Reading describes a Jewish ceremony where the first fruits of a harvest were offered to God, in reminiscence of Abel offering “the firstlings of his flock, [and] their fat portions” to the Lord in Gen 4:4. Through these offerings, we are reminded to always offer the best of what we have to the Lord, for all things we have belong to Him. In the proclamation, the Jews relived how they came to be in Egypt and how the Lord led them back to the Promised Land. The term “wondering Aramaean” in verse 5 refers to their ancestor Jacob. But Jacob was not just a man; his name is Israel and he personifies the Israelite nation. As the reference evolved from “he” to “us”, the Jews brought themselves into participation of the historical events, such that it is no longer just a remembrance but one of anamnesis, i.e. living through a past event by bringing it into the presence. (This same mystery of anamnesis is invoked each time we celebrate the Eucharist at the altar.)
God first revealed Himself to the Israelite nation. However, as the Second Reading explains, salvation is universal, it is not reserved for the Jews. The passage says, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (verse 9). “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (verse 12). This is in contrast to the teachings of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, where they taught that only the Jews could be saved. Through this passage, we are reminded not to make the same mistake as the Pharisees, believing that only Christians may be saved. We have received the fullness of the truth from our Christian faith, that is true. But that does not mean that only Christians may be saved. Salvation is universal – it is the duty of every Christian to spread this Good News, and not to hinder it by adopting a Pharisee-like mentality to our non-believing brothers and sisters.
The Gospel this week recounts how Satan tempted Jesus. By tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread and throw himself off a tall building, Satan tempted Jesus to use his power for his own benefits, rather than by the Father’s design. This is a stark reminder for us followers of Jesus. In everything we do – whether it is a service or a charitable act – we must glorify God rather than ourselves, just like Abel and the Israelites did when they offered the best fruits of their labour to the Lord.
By tempting Jesus with fortunes and power, Satan was asking Jesus to desert God and worship him instead. We too must resist the temptation to worship false gods – whether it is fame, fortune or power. It is noteworthy that in tempting Jesus, the Devil presented a strong argument and even quoted from the Scripture. Face with temptations of this form, falsely justified by misquotes from the Scripture, one can easily fall into disobedience to God while thinking that one is serving God. (For an example, read the story of Saul in 1 Sam 15: 1-23, when he justified his disobedience to God by saying that he did so only to serve God.) To guard against temptations of this form, we must invest in our own faith formation, be vigilant and always act with a discerning heart.
In spite of the temptations, Jesus did not cave in and did not sin. In order to identify with us, God let Jesus be tempted like us and suffered like us. He is like us in all things but sin. Saying no to sin, that is the challenge this Gospel passage poses to us. Let this also be our Lenten theme.