Reflect on God's compassion and love
Because of Christ, we know God's grace and are children of God
February 17, 2002, First Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
As we enter the season of Lent we are reminded that God loves us. Again and again the readings tell us how that love is expressed. Primarily in Jesus, of course, for as we are told in the Gospel of John, God so loved us that God sent the Son to save us. Yet this was expressed in other ways too, as we shall see.
The first reading on the First Sunday of Lent is small parts drawn from an early chapter in Genesis. In the beautiful story of creation, God, like a potter, created a human being and breathed life into that person. It is a story of God's first act of love toward us in creating and sustaining us. The author, whoever he might be, drew from traditions that went back to the edge of human history. Carefully he changed the polytheistic ideas into a picture of one God whom he described as acting in a very human way. It is language that is down to earth.
Yet the author knew that not all things in his time reflected goodness and he sought to tell a story on how sin came into the world. He placed blame where it belongs, on us. He did not really want us to "blame the snake" for that would take away our own human responsibility. Yet he knew in our human way we would tend to place the blame on someone else.
The responsorial psalm gets it right in asking God for forgiveness and being merciful. It is something Adam and all of us must say again and again.
Paul, in his powerful Letter to the Romans, contrasts the results of the act of Adam and the love-act of Christ. He contrasts the power of sin and the power of grace. In another way he contrasts the time before Christ as one in which sin reigned and the time after Christ in which salvation was open to all. Paul uses the account we have just heard from Genesis to tell us that sin has a power over us and its accumulating effect is devastating. The succeeding chapters of Genesis tell not only of estrangement from God but the hostility between human beings.
Now however, because of Christ, we live in a time in which we know the fullness of the power of God's grace. Because of Christ, we are called to be children of God. Paul wants to stress that even though the power of sin is great, the power of God through Christ is even greater. Grace can conquer all.
Finally the Gospel reading shows us in story form how Christ overcame temptation and thus sin. We may never know the reality of what happened but we do know that the author, called Matthew, took the simple statement of Mark that Christ was tempted in the desert and built a symbolic story of how Christ changed what had happened in history to the people of Israel. Using the events of the Exodus and the story of Israel, Matthew tells how Jesus did not fail as Israel once had done.
While Israel grumbled when they had no bread in the wilderness and complained against God, Jesus trusted in God. While Israel had failed in its test and had worshiped the golden calf, Jesus refused to bow to Satan. When Israel again and again tested God's promise of protection, Jesus trusted fully.
We continue to know and experience the compassion of God and this season of Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect on it. Through our readings we will know more about Christ our Savior and in turn know more about ourselves.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)