There’s an old Catholic lenten song to the tune of “Those Were the Days,” from the TV show All In The Family. One of the verses goes like this: “Lent went on at least a year. Sacrifice was all you’d hear. Everlasting life was great but man you wanted a beer!” With that tune in my head, another Lent begins!
Our readings for today’s liturgy are supposed to set us in the right lenten direction. Would that the “sin of Adam” be simply about eating a forbidden fruit and paying the consequences! The sin of disobedience has more to do with listening to the voice of the serpent and acting on his promises rather than God’s. The serpent’s promise to Adam and Eve was if they ate the fruit, they would be “like gods.” Now there can’t be a more noble aspiration than to be like God!
However, the implication here is that the promise of these new powers would mean they could be their own god and could live independent of the God who had created them. This promise was accompanied by a fine-looking piece of mouth-watering fruit! All of this “serpent talk” was designed to distract them from the truth that they were already created in the likeness of their God. But the wise old serpent sows a doubt in their hearts about their true goodness. They had no need to jump through any hoops to improve their lot.
This rejection of the empty promises of the serpent later became enshrined in our baptismal promises when we vowed to reject “all his works and all his empty promises.” Sadly, the serpent’s tongues continue all around us. We often find ourselves comparing our situation with that of others. If only we were talented like so and so, or rich like they are, or advantaged and skilful like another person, or popular like someone else. This gnaws away at our true value and our peace of mind. It puts us into a place where we might be willing to compromise our true self for some plastic promise that never delivers.
Sometimes our secret envy can lead to the double trouble of having an aversion to someone because of their giftedness, and we diminish our own self-worth by some kind of unfair comparison. This is what fuels our own “serpent talk” about and toward others. Good advice comes from the immortal words of Thumper the rabbit in the Disney movie Bambi: “Daddy says if you haven’t anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all!” Conversion away from being a “serpent’s tongue” might begin with an examination of conscience and an awareness of the power of words to build up or destroy.
We can easily lose sight of the deeper values, insights and aspirations that reflect who we really are. Psalm 8 says we were created “a little bit less than the angels.” Genesis says we were made in the image and likeness of God.
Our sin really comes down to the times when we’ve traded in that birthright for a juicy piece of fruit offered by one who would have us think less of ourselves. The serpent strikes at our weakness, our vulnerability and promises us something he cannot deliver. This is why in today’s Gospel it is only in Jesus’ weakest moment, after 40 days in the desert, that the devil offers such tempting fruit! “Turn stones into bread, fall off this cliff, or worship me and these promises will be all yours!”
Jesus’ response is to use the strength of his identity as a Beloved Son to thwart these temptations. Although he was able to refuse the offers of the devil, we need to keep in mind that these were “temptations” for him. Here he was, weak with hunger, no popularity or political power and still he could face the Tempter and refuse to listen to a voice of doubt about his impending ministry.
Richard Rohr, in his book titled Simplicity, writes: “Contemplation is a long and loving look at what really is.” I would simply change one word to make this truth our focused exercise. I would say, “this Lent is a time to take a long and loving look at what really is.” Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, so let us spend 40 days listening for the voice of God amid the cacophony of all the other voices crying out to sell us a new piece of fruit. That voice of God will tell us who we really are as sons and daughters, made in God’s own image and likeness.
Let us begin a new season of Lent with a positive approach. I need to get more firmly in touch with the person God has created me to be. I need to reject any voices that would leave me feeling resentful, jealous or disadvantaged. Take a long and loving look at what really is, the truth about who we are. As Rohr puts it, “Our real value depends on who we are, not what we do. We continually try to be good people, whatever that means. In reality, we are not always good, but we are holy. Being good is something that you earn or acquire or achieve, but we are holy because we came forth from God. That’s just fact.”
Take a long and loving look. In fact, take 40 days. Happy Lent!
Williston gives parish missions and is a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.