First Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2023

Sister Mary Glenn, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture readings: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

One of first things that struck me about the readings for today is how the ancient writers used dialogue to tell their stories. In the first three chapters of Genesis there is lots of talking: God speaks to create the world, then speaks to the man about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then the serpent speaks to the woman who makes the mistake of listening to a talking snake. The best part of the story is what follows today’s selection when the Lord God talks to all of them in turn: the serpent first, then to the man, and finally to the woman. What I like is that at the end of the chapter it is the Lord God who makes garments for the man and his wife and clothes them before they are tossed out of the garden.

The interpretation of this story continues to this day, as it should. One can understand it in the literal sense and believe that these are the facts about how the world began and how it got messed up by human beings. Or one can meditate on the symbolic meaning of who God is in relationship with the world and human beings; then use knowledge from history and science to deepen our understanding.

The story of Jesus in the desert with the devil can be approached in the same way: this is a literal  description of a conversation between Satan and Jesus, or it is a symbolic representation of the struggles within the human person who is seeking a relationship with the Divine.

The use of dialogue inclines me toward the symbolic interpretation of these readings because even though we might imagine what we would say when we are feeling “tempted,” it never turns out quite right. An inspired writer helps us to see our human condition.

These stories can help us enter into the self-discovery that we are invited to every year during Lent. So use them to go deeper into what the Spirit wants to reveal to you this year.

Two symbols that I spent time with are the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, an abstract symbol, and Satan, a personified symbol.

Why does our desire to know get us into trouble? Well, one problem is that our  desire to want to know is insatiable. Once I think I am clear on one thing there is the itch to know more. I can’t help but wonder if that magical instrument we call a smart phone hasn’t magnified the human desire to know so much that it has become an addiction. Ask yourself: is what I learn from my device leading me to peace of mind and deep wisdom? Does everything I know help me to love others more?

The other symbol, Satan, the tempter, is fascinating. Jesus seems to treat Satan almost as an equal, countering his biblically based suggestions with Scripture quotes of his own. Trying to hold his ground with Satan must have exhausted Jesus because angels showed up to comfort him. Later in the gospel Jesus encounters Satan in an entirely different way that can surprise us.

 In Matthew 16 Jesus asks “who do people say that I am?” and Peter declares his conviction that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Jesus in turn praises Peter who has received this revelation from the Father. He treats Peter as an equal.

However, a few verses later, when Jesus begins to warn the disciples that his mission would fail and that he would die, Peter rebukes Jesus, insisting that this will not happen. And what does Jesus say? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” Peter’s love has blinded him to the full revelation that suffering and death are essential to following Jesus. This is what can happen when we are driven to rescue others from what they are meant to do. This happens in families does it not? Most of us in religious life have a story of how our choice caused anguish and even anger among our family and friends. The art of dialogue used so effectively by the ancient writers invites us to examine the stories we have created for ourselves. Let us ask the Spirit to open our hearts to whatever temptation may burden us and to engage in dialogue with it.


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