Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Feb. 26: First Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The new tree of life

Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

There are times when we feel pulled in several directions at once. There are family responsibilities, career opportunities, community and church commitments, connections with friends and the desire for time for ourselves. We need to consider all these, especially when making choices about the future.

After Jesus’ experience at his baptism by John, he had to choose the path he was to take in fulfilling the mission that God had entrusted to him. How much was he willing to sacrifice? Was he willing to live without home and family? Would he be content to have the poor, public sinners, the rejects of society as his friends?

Could he handle the opposition, vilification and rejection that would inevitably follow? Would he be content to live off the charity of others? The temptation to take a less demanding path must have been strong, but Jesus chose to ignore his own comfort to announce the Good News.

How successful could Jesus be if he were to live a life of poverty and humility? Perhaps he could make a name for himself with works of wonder. He could draw people by becoming the “next big thing.”

What is wrong with achieving celebrity status? Impressing people with works of wonder would be an easy way for Jesus to convince people that he was sent by God, but Jesus resisted the temptation to make a spectacle of himself.

Jesus could have chosen to listen to the voice of his people who were tired of living subject to a foreign power. First it was the Assyrians, then the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and finally the Romans.

Many Jews believed that it was time for Israel to retake its rightful place among the nations of the world. By ascending the throne of his forebear David, Jesus could establish the reign of God in the world. Perhaps this was the strongest temptation of all, but Jesus rejected it out of hand.

At the end of a long time of prayer and fasting, Jesus found the strength to take up his mission by placing himself in God’s hands, confident that the Holy Spirit would eventually make clear to him what path he was to take as his mission unfolded.

In the end, Jesus fulfilled the mission God gave him in ways that few people expected. He went about doing good but many considered him to be a sinner. He thought nothing of the kingdoms of this world because he sought to announce the coming of God’s reign and its justice. Jesus did not succumb to temptations to compromise the mission that the Holy Spirit revealed to him.

During Lent, we reprise the temptations of Christ in our experience as we participate in the mission to complete Jesus’ work on earth. To fulfill that mission, we, like Jesus, must be content to place ourselves in God’s hands, confident that the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us.

We may not know the precise path that the Spirit will urge us to take, but we are confident that nothing we do to advance God’s reign on earth will be done in vain. Along the way we, like Jesus, we will face temptations to avoid the uncomfortable, to look for recognition and to gain status — while trying to tell ourselves that we are advancing the reign of God. The way to overcome the often subtle temptations to compromise is to be brutally honest in our self-assessment.

The first two readings speak of sin and death — and life. The man and the woman in the garden made a foolish choice. The woman believed the serpent about the marvelous effects of eating the fruit. She acted on impulse, ate the fruit and gave some to the man who, without a second thought, ate the fruit as well.

Their impulsive, thoughtless, foolish choice did give them knowledge of good and evil, but it also denied them access to the tree of life. They began to live in the shadow of death. Paul asserts that sin and death became part of the human condition because of the disobedience of one man as described in the story of the garden of Eden. He goes on to testify that through Jesus forgiveness and life came to all. The new tree of life is the cross.


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