First Sunday of Lent
A Just Person May Falls Seven Times a Day
First Reading ( Gen 2:7-9;3:1-7 ) : Our first parents disobeyed God
Second Reading ( Rom 5:12-19 ) : When sins are many, God's grace is even greater
Gospel ( Mt 4:1-11 ) : Jesus rejected Satan's temptations three times
The Master said, “I would not have him live with me, who will die without regret by attacking a tiger unarmed, or cross a river without a boat. My associate must be the man who proceeds to action full of solicitude, who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then puts them into execution.” (1)
In today's Scripture reading, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times and repudiated the devil three times. Let us review the story:
Once Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan. After fasting forty days and nights he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, order these stones to be turned into bread." Jesus answered, ‘It is written, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Next the devil led him to the highest pinnacle of the temple and said "If you are the Son of God," Throw yourself down, for it is written: 'He has commanded his angels to hold you up by the hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms and splendour of the world and said to him, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ (Ref Mt 4:1-11)
Jesus Christ was the Son of God and was tempted three times. His example teaches us that it is difficult for any one of us to avoid temptation, and in the course of being tempted there inevitably will be times of weakness. But Scripture tells us not to be afraid, as all of this stems from original sin.
Our first parents disobeyed God and brought sin into the world so that we all have become prone to commit sin. Our bodies are weak and as St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all’ (Ref Rom 5:12-19)
In the Letter to the Romans Paul spoke of sin having already reached a fearful stage: all human beings have sinned. Whether they are part of the Chosen People or do not believe in God, all people are sinners. Paul describes us as having running sores, as if our internal dispositions have spread to our bodies. But his main point is not about a description of sin but rather that grace will triumph over sin. He says: ‘The free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift abounded for the many. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’
We are all human and we all can be tempted. We are weak at times and we sometimes fall into sin. Christians do have one salient point, we are not afraid that we will fall. St. Augustine had an apt saying: “I am very consoled when I read the words of Scripture ‘that the just person falls seven times a day.”
Augustine himself had a rather unique experience. As a youth he was quite a wayward person. After his conversion he recalled two incidents. He said that he sometimes stole fruit from other peoples' gardens, not that his own garden had no fruit but because he wanted to enjoy the satisfaction of stealing.
He also said that sometimes when he shared an experience of wrong-doing with other young people he would boast that he had committed more and bigger crimes than others. In this way, even in committing sin he was greater than others! It was this same Augustine who said that he was comforted by the Scriptural passage about the righteous person falling seven times a day.
In fact only a righteous person could fall ‘seven times’ whereas those who are not righteous may fall only “one time” during a lifetime. Because when he falls he will never rise again, so it is
impossible for him to fall a second time!
The righteous person may fall seven times a day because each time he falls he does not succumb to discouragement or despair. He is determined to rise up again.
Today we have the Rite of Election (catechumens' second step in the Rite of Initiation) during which the catechumens' ask for Baptism. I hope each one will bear in mind that Baptism is a Sacrament which symbolizes that we wish to commit ourselves to Christ for our entire lives. After we are baptized we have a new set of values and a new perspective on life. Thereafter we also should have a different attitude towards temptation and sin.
After baptism, we may still experience our weaknesses and the fact that we are still sinners and may still sin again. That is not important, what is important is that we regain confidence in the power of Christ and face ourselves anew.
Even Christ was tempted three times, so we should not be afraid to be tempted three times, thirty times, three thousand times! We do not even fear past failures, because no matter what our past has been like, we can always put a full stop to it and open up a new page of life and begin anew.
Confucius said, “I would not have him to live with me, who will die without regret by attacking a tiger unarmed, or crossing a river without a boat. My associate must be the man who proceeds to action full of solicitude, who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then putting them into execution.”(1) (Confucian Analects, Book VII, Shu R, Chapter 10) What Confucius meant was that he would not behave like those people who would go to fight a tiger unarmed or recklessly swim across a river,. then die without feeling regret. Confucius believed that when dealing with important events, one should proceed with caution, using our intelligence to complete the tasks allotted to us.
If we make good use of our experiences of temptation, even of past sins, it will be easier for us to respond like the man Confucius described: “he proceeds to action full of solicitude who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then puts them into execution.” (1) Proceeding with caution, meanwhile depending on God who give us strength, we can courageously face whatever temptations life brings.