First Sunday of Lent ( a ) 2020
Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. I don’t suppose any of us have done that. I find it hard to fast for 1 day, never mind 40? Many people didn’t even fast on Ash Wednesday when we are supposed to! I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to fast. But Jesus didn’t just fast, he was also tempted. Now that’s something we are all more familiar with. But what about the temptations of Jesus: turning stones into bread, or throwing yourself down from a tall building or kneeling down to worship satan? Are these your kind of temptation? I don’t suppose so.
The truth is we didn’t have to go into the desert, and fast there for 40 days, and then endure these three temptations. Jesus did it all on our behalf. He did it in order to overcome our sins. The first reading tells us that we were responsible for bringing sin into the world. Our first parents, Adam & Eve, messed things up badly for the rest of us. There was no hope of getting back into the garden of Eden. That is until Christ came along. He made it all possible. This is what St Paul tells us in today’s second reading.
Paul knew that Christ had paid the debt for the sin of Adam & Eve. Listen to what St Paul says; ‘If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall [ie., Adam’s], it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous.’ Notice those words, ‘the free gift that he does not deserve’.
Christ offers us forgiveness as a free gift. In other words, he doesn’t charge us. He doesn’t say “you owe me”. He offers us forgiveness and the freedom that that brings. Not just to good people but to all: good and bad. It is a free gift that, as St Paul says, we ‘don’t deserve’. But the trouble is some people don’t believe this.
The free gift of Christ is one of the hardest things for us to understand. It runs against the grain. There is a popular expression in Lancashire or is it Yorkshire: “you get ought for nought”. In other words you have to pay for everything. But it’s not just Yorkshire people this refers to but many of us. This way of thinking doesn’t believe in free gifts. And so, applying that to our faith, some people cannot accept God’s gift of forgiveness as a free gift. No, “you get ought for nought”. In their way of thinking you have to earn your own salvation.
Christ offers us all a free gift. Don’t reject it because you feel you don’t deserve it. The truth is we don’t; no one does. If we can learn about the free gift that God is offering us, it will make a huge difference to our lives. God in Christ has done the hard work: the fasting the 40 days and nights, the temptations, the passion, suffering and death; we just reap the benefits.
The person who believes in God’s gift of grace is blessed indeed. St Therese of Lisieux, ‘the little flower’, understood this: that it isn’t about our efforts, our determination, or self-discipline. No, all is grace; all is gift. When God in Christ offers us this gift, don’t turn Him away; don’t say, “you get ought for nought.” Say rather, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. Thank you for your gift of forgiveness”.