Who would have thought that a Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy would be fraught with themes from Theology of the Body by Pope St. John Paul II? Deuteronomy on the surface looks like a book only of laws, rules, and regulations, but on a deeper level it is all about a love story between a loving God and His chosen children, the Israelites. The “wandering Armenian” is Joseph, sold by his own brothers to the Ishmaelite’s, who, in turn, brought him to Egypt. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and saving Egypt from famine, Joseph was rewarded, not only with his freedom, but also with high rank and favor in Pharaoh’s court. He and his family prospered and grew in abundance, they became “great, strong and numerous.” Then, a Pharaoh, “who knew not Joseph,” came into power and put the Jews into the bondage of slavery for over 400 years. The loving “God, of our Fathers,” heard their cry and brought them a deliverer, a pre-cursor to the future Messiah – Moses, who would be God’s instrument to display His power over Egypt. He would lead God’s disobedient children into the wilderness and lead them to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Their heavenly Father knew what they needed, when and where they needed it. He delivered their enemies into their hands by His Almighty and powerful hand and provided abundantly for them. The “first fruits of the products of the soil” are not simply earthly produce and food, but the greatest product of the soil is mankind himself, male and female, made in God’s image and likeness. Adam, the first man, was made from the soil and Eve from his side. We are to present ourselves to God in gratitude for the gift of our lives which He has so graciously bestowed upon us, as well as food – fruit of the earth – in thanksgiving to Him.
Our response to the first reading is taken from Psalm 91, part of the 4th book of Psalms, which is composed of Psalms 90-106. It is a psalm of deep trust in God’s love and power, not only for the psalmist, but for all Israel and hence us today. The psalmist is confident that God’s Presence will protect the people in every dangerous situation (v. 3-13). The final verses are an oracle of salvation promising salvation to those who trust in the all-powerful God (v. 14-16). “The shelter of the Most High” is basically a hiding place, like the protected temple precincts. It is easily compared to Psalm 17, which mentions the safety afforded those with faith by the outstretched wings of the cherubim in the holy of holies. Here the important 11th and 12th verses of the psalm are repeated in the Gospel of St. Matthew 4:6 and St. Luke 4:10-11-today’s Gospel. While being tempted, Jesus clearly does not assume God’s protection by placing Himself in harm’s way and humbly does not tempt His loving Father to prove His love for Him by performing an act for Him. Satan tries to manipulate and distort Sacred Scripture to his advantage, but Jesus has none of that. Jesus’ trust in the Father is based on relationship and humble identity. It is not based on proof.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is about the Lord being near to us. This is already shown in Deuteronomy and Psalm 91. We have a loving and protecting Father. We do not need to feel ashamed of our weaknesses, faults and failings, as Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly pointed out during his pontificate and in Theology of the Body. “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failings. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us…” We need not be afraid of drawing closer to God who humbled Himself to us to redeem us and to draw us intimately to Himself, as an adorable child in the manger in Bethlehem had done.
Led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the desert to be tempted. He desired to teach us not only how to resist and conquer evil, with His grace, but to show us what a loving relationship truly entails – love, trust and sacrifice. Jesus was humanly strengthened by what He suffered for us. We must pick up our crosses and do the same. Once we understand His unconditional, enduring love for us, we cannot only survive, but also thrive in the desert of life. Lent is not about, “what are you giving up this Lent.” It is far more about allowing our loving God to continue to develop His relationship with us and we must do our part, not through complacent, slothful presumption, but through grace-filled endurance and perseverance to grow ever closer to the power of the Most High, who desires us to allow Him to overshadow us and bless us with His dew – He is the Lord the Giver of Life.
Download this Reflection as a PDF file – 1st Sunday of Lent Year C
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.