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Victor Cancino, S.J.February 22, 2023
CrucifixPhoto from Unsplash.

The readings for the First Sunday of Lent provide an opportunity to discern two voices: the voice of the tempter and the voice of the Spirit. In the first reading, the serpent is described as “the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made” (Gn 3:1). The voice of this ambiguous creature planted a seed of doubt for the first pair of humans, a seed that grew into an inheritance that we now call the doctrine of original sin. The second voice comes from Jesus in the Gospel reading. Jesus silences the voice of the tempter, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Mt 4:10).

Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve. (Mt 4:10)

Liturgical day
First Sunday of Lent (A)
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7, Ps 51, Rm 5:12-19, Mt 4:1-11

In your spiritual path, whose “voice” is the loudest?

This Lent what do you desire to hear?

This Lent what do you desire to silence?

The idea of a being like Satan has developed over time in our faith tradition. In earlier references, like the book of Job, Satan did not yet personify evil. He served as God’s prosecutor and prowled the earth testing the loyalty of believers. The serpent in the garden of Eden bears these characteristics and becomes an instigator that uses the human condition of Adam and Even to fuel doubt about God. He seduces Adam and Eve to follow their own desires and to question the divine voice. The end result is the first couple’s awareness of their nakedness, their vulnerability and their need to cover the nakedness.  

Today’s readings serve as a warning against being so filled with a cacophony of voices that there is no longer room for the voice of the Spirit to speak.

By the time Matthew writes his Gospel in the first century of the common era, the figure of the serpent, the Satan of Job and the devil have blended their identities. Satan the prosecutor has merged with the serpent of Genesis as well as traditions of other biblical divine opponents to become the preeminent transcendental personification of evil. 

In today’s Gospel, the tempter plays the role of seducer while Jesus is physically weak after forty days and forty nights of fasting. Jesus is spiritually fit enough, however, to face the demonic challenge he must confront in the desert. Twice the devil attempts to seduce Jesus to doubt his divine Father. “If you are the Son of the God, command that these stones become loaves of bread” and “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you” (see Mt 4:3-6). Like the serpent of Genesis, the devil in Matthew is cunning. The enemy of the human condition attacks with things Jesus holds sacred. He twists the meaning of scripture and attacks from an even deeper place, Jesus’ essence and identity as God’s son. The struggle is psychological as much as it is spiritual.

Jesus draws his strength from something even deeper than his own identity. Letting the Spirit speak through him, he addresses the devil directly, “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10). In Matthew, Jesus will use this language almost verbatim when he rebukes his own disciple Peter for being an obstacle to the divine plan. “But he turned and said to Peter,” reads Mt 16:23, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” According to the logic of the Gospel of Matthew, anything or anyone that becomes an obstacle to the driving force of the Spirit is under the command of Satan.

Today’s readings serve as a warning against being so filled with a cacophony of voices that there is no longer room for the voice of the Spirit to speak. Adam and Eve’s shock at their nakedness may be viewed as a temptation to believe that they are left alone to navigate this dangerous world. If this is the case then it is easy to see how out of despair one might follow a voice that ought to be silenced. Lent is a time to hear Jesus clearly speak: “Get away, Satan!” Lent is a time to hear clearly the voice that comes from the source of life.

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