Lent I / A / 2020
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
With these readings, we enter into the holy season of Lent—a time of preparation, conversion, prayer, fasting, almsgiving—turning away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel.
Our readings today are a kind of "back to the basics." Athletes know that before the football, baseball, soccer seasons, they practice, back to the basics, doing the same drills year after year. Well, it is the same for Christians and the season of Lent: each year, we turn back to the basics, honing our skills, becoming strong, living the Christian life more deeply.
And so we start at the very beginning, with the creation of man and woman, from the Book of Genesis. Notice how positively everything starts. God places man and woman in a garden—a garden of delights! It is important to remember that the world started with an "original blessing" before "original sin." God created us out of love. God wants us to live—to be fully alive.
So God tells Adam and Eve that they may eat of all the trees of the garden—save one. Don’t we tend to focus on that one—and forget about all the others. All the trees represent all the blessings that God bestows upon humanity. But all we remember is that we can’t eat from one tree—the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
But why not? Why couldn’t Adam and Eve eat from this tree? Because the tree stands for something that is unique to God, not to human beings. God alone determines good and evil. To eat of this tree is to take to oneself what uniquely belongs to God.
God isn’t being capricious here. God is not making some arbitrary decision. God is not just playing with us. God wants man and woman to be happy—so he warns them to stay away from this tree.
You might be thinking, "But wouldn’t it be good if we could determine for ourselves what is good and what is evil?" Well, think about it. If each of us decides what is good and evil, and each of us comes up with something different—what happens? Rivalry. Dissension. War. Disorder. And that pretty much describes our world today.
And that is what Satan wants. The devil is pretty crafty here. The devil makes evil look like something good: you can be gods if you eat from this tree. And we want to be God! The devil insinuates that God is a rival, not a friend.
So Adam and Eve give in to temptation, and they eat of the fruit. They exert their will over God’s will, and they become God’s rival. They lose communion with God, and they become alienated from each other. Their nakedness is a symbol that the innocence of the garden is lost: Paradise lost.
The lesson to be learned is that God determines what is good and what is evil. When we listen to God, and follow God’s ways, we live in communion and peace.
When we exert our own will—when we become "god"—we find ourselves in the disorder of a wasteland.
And, it is into that wasteland that the Spirit leads Jesus, to face the devil once more—to fight that battle again—and this time to win, setting the stage for Redemption.
Back to basics. Paradise restored.