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Trust – The very core of faith
Gn 2, 7-9 ; 3, 1-7a – Rm 5, 12-19 – Mt 4, 1-11
What type of fuel does your spiritual engine run on ? Mine runs on diesel. It is fond of smooth starts and a slow increase in engine speed… It’s not a very responsive type of engine but I must admit it has stamina and excellent autonomy. The readings at the beginning of Lent are certainly not in keeping with this. The liturgy has no reservations about stepping on the accelerator and revving up the engine when proposing three fundamental texts as early as the first Sunday of Lent.
Let’s start with Jesus’s temptations, which can clearly be regarded as another way of looking at the events described in Exodus. And indeed there are many common points between the “forty years” spent by the Israelites in the desert before entering the Promised Land and the “forty days” spent by Jesus in the desert before starting his public life. The Israelites first demanded bread as they were suspicious of a God declaring to be their Father. They then demanded signs when they lost confidence in a God whose ways were so mysterious. Finally, one day, they simply turned their backs on Him to make idols – immediately accessible to their senses, reassuring and comfortable.
Jesus experiences something similar during his retreat in the desert. The Greek verb “peirazein” – used in both the Gospel and the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament – reinforces this similarity. Commonly translated as “to tempt”, it was to be more appropriately translated later on as “to put to the test”. When we speak of temptation, we often think of something that pushes us to do evil. Being put to the test rather expresses difficulties and trials which test the authenticity and strength of commitment or service.
Jesus is therefore put to the test by the devil:
- Are you hungry? Demand bread from God: you will see whether He will respond!
- Cast yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple: we’ll see whether He is with you!
- Go on now, turn away from Him! Follow the path of power! Be the only master of your fate!
Chapelle du Fra Angelico, Couvent Dominicain de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgique, 2017.
This is what the biblical text says, but to what extent is it relevant to us as we reach the first milestone on our way to Easter? I believe that what the devil tries to target is what constitutes – before any subsequent determination – the living core of our faith: trust. It is our trust that is shaken by the difficulties in our lives, by suffering and loneliness. We too, like the Israelites, put God to the test, we demand His response, we turn our backs on Him to seek the deceptive comfort of the idols of our time, of all times.
What Jesus would like to instil in us is the fundamental trust that was at the root of his whole ministry, a trust in ourselves, in life, in others and in God. For faith may not be anything else than a supreme form of trust: an obscure certainty in which an act of will or rather an act of love compensates for darkness.
This brings us to the first reading of this First Sunday of Lent: the “deliciously” misogynist story of the original sin. What is at stake in this ban on eating the fruit of “the tree in the middle of the garden”? Is God a sadistic tyrant playing games with His creatures ? What was the actual offence of our forebears? Were they guilty of wanting to be like God, of refusing their condition as creatures? In moral terms, were they guilty of disobedience, of pride?
I can’t see any such thing in the Book of Genesis. God is not jealous of the man to whom He has entrusted the earth! He acknowledges, however, Adam and Eve’s refusal to trust, their refusal to receive it all and ultimately their refusal to love which is expressed by their transgression.
The original sin is also mentioned by Paul in the second reading. Let’s not regard this sin as the source of some sort of flaw passed on from one generation to the next because of some pathetic blunderer, a flaw which an unfair God would make us liable for. Let’s rather regard this as the story of our own human condition: our continuous refusal to love and trust. It should be pointed out, however, that as soon as the Apostle of the Gentiles brings this story to light, he tells us straightaway that we are saved. The Scriptures reveal us our sin at the very moment when telling us that we are forgiven.
I wish you all a blessed Lent!
Your brother in saint Dominic,
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