First Sunday in Lent (Year A), 2020-03-01: ”Hello Everybody, I Am God – and You Are Not!”


Homily for First Sunday in Lent


Year A: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-6, 12-14, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The American Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft was once asked to conclude the message of the Bible in oneliners. The first and most central was this: “Hello everybody, I am God – and you are not!”

In fact, Kreeft gives a very good summary of the season of Lent, during which the Church acts like a personal trainer in helping us revisit the fundamentals of our spiritual life. Just like bodily wellbeing – for which many are prepared to sacrifice a lot – spiritual fitness demands repetitions of basic movements. The first, contracting movement is our trust in God. The second, returning, is the insight that it takes sacrifice to attain a more profound communion with God through Jesus Christ.

Trust in God, i.e. not in ourselves, is the common denominator of today’s readings. The first, from the Book of Genesis, offers the well-known story of the fall of the first humans and the human creation of original sin. The eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, is the symbol for how our ancestors decided to define good and bad without God, tempted by the devil to fear that God actually did not understand their best. How often don’t we hear or think exactly the same: “The Church tells me this one thing, but I know the other is better for me”?

Today’s gospel shows how Jesus when tempted in the desert did the exact opposite of what the first humans did. I.e. rejected the temptations and thus defeated their originator, the devil. What this implied for the subsequent mission of Jesus is explained in our second reading from the letter to the Romans: “by one man’s obedience”, i.e. trust in God the Father, the consequence of original sin, i.e. our self-imposed exclusion from communion with God, is undone, although our basic pride remains as a wound always in need for treatment. Since Jesus Christ is fully divine, he can defeat the ultimate consequence of distrust in God: eternal death. And since he is fully human wecan, by faith, share in his victory. This, and nothing else, is the good news!

In our responsorial psalm we just exclaimed with Israel’s great penitential hymn: “Have mercy on us, O Lord” – and asked the Lord, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to include also our lives in his service and sacrifice for the will of the Father. This sets the tone for the whole season of Lent, in which we are invited to do perceptible works of fasting, intense prayer and almsgiving to focus on what really matters to eternal life, and to detach ourselves from what doesn’t. Today’s gospel story of the temptations of our Lord in the desert – something he had to go through to prepare for the resistance his subsequent public ministry eventually would meet – gives us very important spiritual information as it reveals the work strategies of the devil, the master of confusion and lies, the enemy of the true human nature.

Jesus’s first temptation, to turn stones into bread, shows how the devil seldom aims at our reversal of priorities, only our adjustments of them. He wants to persuade us to take the second best, which will enable him to stepwiseturn our attention away from the best, i.e. God. Bread to eat when you are hungry is nothing bad in itself. On the contrary. But material, social, economic, technical or ecological progress is never the aim of Christian faith. Eternal salvation is. True transformation of hearts through increasing conversion to Christ however also has important, worldly effects, following from us making “every word that comes from the mouth of God” our primary nourishment.

The best remedy for misdirected priorities of any kind is a frequent use of confession, the sacrament of reconciliation. As Pope Francis has reminded us: the limit is never God’s willingness to forgive, only our willingness to start anew with right priorities, to acknowledge our need for help to do it, and to ask for forgiveness.

Jesus’s second temptation, to use God’s assuring promises as an instrument for totally individual purposes, in this case popularity from a simple show-off, shows how the devil interprets God’s will in the Bible. The devil tempts us to turn everything that we would want God to bless into our natural starting point, finally arriving at a god of our own construction. Jesus, on his side, starts with faith as trust in what Israel’s prophetic tradition says about God, regardless of our short-term desires. This is also Jesus’s instruction to his Catholic Church, where God’s incarnation remains present in the world through seven sacraments and an immutable teaching explaining God’s will expressed in Sacred Scripture. Just as Jesus trusts the Father, he wants us to trust the Church, speaking on his behalf when presenting and explaining the deposit of faith.

Why not make this Lent a season of increased trust in the Church as our mother and teacher? Why not take an area of Catholic teaching, which you find difficult to understand or even to embrace, and study, reflect, pray over it and try to understand it, giving the Holy Spirit a real chance to help you see how it expresses God’s love and strives for our true freedom – to become who God wants us to become?

Jesus’s third temptation, to attain power by worshipping what is not God, describes a privatised faith. At all times, Christians have been pressed to publicly support views and actions contradicting faith, in order to be respected or entrusted with power; in societies, corporations, workplaces and communities. The temptation is to lead a double life: Christ can be worshipped at Sunday Mass or evenings at home. Otherwise we can worship like the rest of our culture. The secular culture’s pleasure in this, and reward to us for that, will stepwise take over, and we will finally stop praying. At least to God.

Perhaps a good method to resist this temptation could be to always display your Catholic faith as reminder to self and others. Why not e.g. visibly carry a cross, or even better, a crucifix – as that shows the mercy of God in full expression? Our public space needs more of Christ – and each one of us can do something for that.

So, sisters and brothers, let us make this Lent to a new start for our trust in God, by listening to him more, obeying him more and showing more that we worship him alone. And let us realise we never need to fight evil, inward or outward, on our own; that we are offered a share in Jesus’s victory. First in the desert; finally and definitely on the cross. A share given to us when we act with Christ, for Christ and in Christ, as he told us in today’s gospel: “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.” There everything starts, and from there all eternally necessary goods, will indeed flow. Amen.



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