The Sunday Project

In the Desert

First Sunday of Lent |

By Darby DeJarnette
Landscape of a desert
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First Reading
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 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, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

Second Reading
Romans 5:12-19

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned -- sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,' and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

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Have you ever heard a bad homily? A homily so bad that it makes your pulse pound in your ears as you break out in a nervous sweat, all while trying to figure out whether you should scream or cry or maybe just leave? I have. I just sat there with a million thoughts rushing through my head as the Deacon disparaged “sodomite marriage,” charging people like myself with the monstrous crime of wanting to have a legally recognized family. By the grace of God I was able to make it up the line to take the Eucharist. My continuous “Hail Mary” was answered with a voice telling me not to let any man come between me and Christ. 

In the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, the devil tempts Jesus: turn these stones into bread, jump off the parapet of the temple, bow down and worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus had been fasting in the desert for forty days. These offerings must have been tempting, but Jesus remained steadfast. 

It’s the most difficult thing in the world not to retaliate when someone hurts you without cause. When we are emotionally injured, the devil offers us an array of pleasing solutions to our problems. We want to fight back, to drag the person down as low down as we can get them to go, to make sure they feel as much pain as they have caused us. When we’ve been left in the desert with nothing to defend ourselves, we can’t help but to try and resort to any method available to survive. Jesus didn’t give in to this temptation, but he triumphed over his enemies. How could this be? 

The light of Easter is at the end of the long, dark tunnel of Lent. This may only be the first Sunday, but we know how the story ends. Through one man sin entered the world. Through Christ many will be made righteous. Jesus won by surrendering to God and, more importantly, by surrendering to his enemies. This is the real “hard truth” of the gospels.  

We are called to love our enemies and to pray for them. When we are hurt by someone, we have to see them through the eyes of Christ: flawed, but worthy. We have to remember that all things will be made new, even the people who persecute us. LGBTQ+ people have learned that the road to real self-sacrificial love is long and riddled with dangers. The people who hurt us still belong to God and, one day, they will also learn to love others in a way that reflects Christ. 

We have to pray for the grace to love the people who cause our suffering. We have to say, “Get away, Satan,” when we are struggling with this. Until we have all been renewed and our suffering has been reconciled in Christ, we have to lean on God in times of trial. The psalm says, “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” When we are lost in the desert, we have nothing to offer up except for ourselves. This is all God wants from us.