Gospel Reflection for March 1, 2020

As we begin the Lenten Season, we are drawn to focus on our on-going need for conversion. Our tendency to sin is built in to our very nature. As human beings we experience fundamental desires, all of which are oriented towards our goodness and yet each of them, when taken to an extreme or acted upon recklessly, begins our downward slide. At the same time, curiosity is inherent to our human nature. The Lord has gifted us with an unlimited desire for knowledge. Curiosity about life and experiences, especially those denied to us because of any of a number of circumstances, can become a wonderful time of discovery, or it can draw us into a world of pain and destruction. We never really know the full scope of consequences that will result from any of our actions, either for good or for bad.

There, then, exists within us, a dynamic tension a desire for the good while at the same time a desire to test the good.

We open our Readings this Sunday in the Garden of Eden. The man and the woman placed there were given free reign over the garden and the fruits of the garden. There was but one tree, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad, which stood in the center of the garden, whose fruit forbidden to them.

The woman, working in the garden, is tempted by the serpent to partake of this fruit. As we read through the text we can see that the serpent did not tempt the woman with the forbidden fruit out of nowhere. Not only was she very familiar with the tree and its hauntingly forbidden fruit, she is working within sight of the tree. It was easy to draw her focus to the tree and to tempt her to eat the fruit, as she must have already wondered what fruit might taste like.

Temptation is not a once and done experience. It builds up within us over time. Idleness, curiosity, the media, etc., can draw us to areas of temptation and lead us slowly along the path to sin. Uninterrupted or unchecked, what begins as a spark of curiosity or of desire can grow into an overwhelming urgency within us.

While the woman stood near the tree of the forbidden fruit going about her tasks, Jesus enters the desert for a period of fasting without even a morsel of bread. He has set aside anything which would distract him or lead him away from his mission. He has brought no hidden stash of food waiting to be consumed when his period of fasting is over. Jesus has set aside anything that could distract him.

Jesus is hungry. The tempter knows this and therefore has to appeal to Jesus’ human nature and desire for food. But the tempter has to go even beyond the human nature of Jesus and to conjure for him a way to abuse his divine nature as well. The tempter lures Jesus into a realm of doubt as to the proper exercise of his status as Son of God. This was a dangerous path for the tempter to trod, hoping that the seed of doubt could overcome his certainty as Son. Jesus was ready and determined to follow the path he was given, and not to fall to the wiles of the tempter.

Each of us faces a wide range of temptation each and every day. Some of the temptations are significant, as they scratch at our weaknesses, old wounds, or draw is into places we have not ventured but are curious. Yet, and more insidiously, many of the ways we are tempted are small and almost insignificant on the surface. Taking a little from here or a little from there, we can fall into temptation almost seamlessly without even being fully reflective on where we are headed. Here we need to be more careful, as sometimes we are caught up in sins that we never imagined and that are more serious than we thought. The danger comes when we allow ourselves to be open to the occasions of sin, especially those we only imagine.

This Lenten Season, let us not focus solely on conversion from the sins that we do commit, and let us discover new ways to convert from the desire for the sins we have yet to commit.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.