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1 Lent, Year A: Superabounding Grace

Sunday’s Readings | Feb. 26, 2023

Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Ps. 32
Rom. 5:12-19
Matt. 4:1-11

The Devil promotes “critical thinking skills” in the face of a mystery we know only in part. Where devotion is first and foremost required, evil insinuates sin and death by asking questions, putting God to the test, examining God as a thing for clever speculation. Austin Farrer rightly names the problem of bad theology: “If he hears a dogma of the faith discussed as a cool speculation, about which theories can be held and arguments propounded, the Christian cannot escape disquiet. ‘What are these people doing?’ he will ask. “Do they not know what they are discussing? How can they make an open question what the country is like, which they enter when they pray?” (Lord, I Believe, p. 9)

In Genesis, we meet a cool speculator. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” (Gen. 3:1) The serpent stands aloof from the divine, suggesting that it is possible to live by something other than “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). It is not. Once the woman and her husband step outside the circle of divine being and divinely ordered creation, they fall inexorably into nothingness. They are naked, their lives a formless void. Moreover, the Devil would have even Jesus as a debating partner, issuing his provocative charge, “If you are the Son of God.” Unlike the first Adam, the Second Adam stands firm, winning a triple victory in the power of his divine being.

Looking at this story another time, we might think about our own lives. We live in the presence of divine mystery suffusing all creation, and so are invited to wonder and exultation. Goodness, truth, beauty, faith, hope, and love continually pour out as God holds all things in being. To see the world this way is to be rich beyond all knowing. There is, of course, another way to see the world, of which we are all quite aware. The world is a place of limited resources and ominous threats. Life is a fight and struggle in which survival means taking what you need or want. The world thus becomes no longer beautiful but merely alluring, tempting, “a thing to be grasped.” Again, turning to Genesis, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).Evil is provocative and alluring, always presented as a good wrongly denied. Where does it lead?

In the Epistle to the Colossians, a list describes life before we have put on Christ. It is by no means exhaustive: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed (which is idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, and lies. These evils are the ruination of one’s interior life and the destruction of human community. Still, they present themselves disguised as an angel of light.

Is there a way back to innocence? In a sense, the answer is no. We cannot be those who have never fallen. We can only be those who have been restored. But forgiveness and restoration are glorious. “If, because of one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Jesus Christ is the superabounding grace by which we are created and yet more wonderfully restored.

LOOK IT UP: Psalm 32

THINK ABOUT IT: Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven!


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