Year A – 1st Sunday in Lent

On a Trap for the Unwary

(Gen.2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom.5:12-19; Matt.4:1-11)

Today, let’s begin with a story.  It’s about a wealthy man who had his own private zoo.  One day he heard about a rare and beautiful type of African gazelle, and he decided to get one.

When he arrived in Africa, they told him that these animals are much too fast and much too smart to be caught.  But he replied, ‘I’ll get one. You’ll see.  I’ll get as many as I want.’  And he did.  This is how he did it.

He found a herd of gazelles, and one night he poured some sweet feed onto the open ground and left.  It was a blend of oats and molasses.  Every night for two weeks he scattered that feed, and every day they came to eat.  In the third week he scattered more feed, but he also sank a long post into the ground some distance away. 

The next night he scattered more feed, and he erected another post.  Each night he did the same, gradually adding more posts, and boards, to build an enclosure.  But the gazelles kept coming.  They found their way in and they ate all they could.

They didn’t realise they were losing their freedom.  They didn’t notice he was building a trap.  On the last day, when they were all inside, he closed the gap in the fence and the gazelles were trapped. 

Someone asked how he knew all this, and he replied, ‘That’s how I treat people.  I give them what they want, and in return they give me their freedom’. [i]

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, ‘the devil has the power to assume a pleasing shape’.[ii]  What he’s saying is that Satan is very good at making something evil appear good.  He seduces people until they’re trapped.

That’s how people become addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling.  That’s how we get ensnared by the seven deadly sins. That’s how we fall into wasteful habits, like spending too much time on our Smartphones or watching TV. 

The first step is easy and it’s often very pleasant.  But an ounce of pleasure is sometimes followed by a ton of regret.  Adam and Eve learnt that.  When they ate that forbidden fruit, their momentary pleasure was followed by a lifetime of pain.

Have you been seduced into a way of life or a behaviour you now regret?  Do you feel trapped?  Well, this Lent we’ve all been given a second chance.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus is in the desert, preparing himself for his public ministry.  He’s praying, fasting and reflecting.  But he’s also tired and hungry.  

Satan thinks this is a great time to tempt him, for his defences are down.  So, he asks Jesus, why not turn those stones into bread?  That will fix your hunger.  But Jesus says no; there’s more to life than physical satisfaction.

Then Satan asks, why not prove yourself by throwing yourself off a tower?  But Jesus says no; he’s not motivated by power or pride.

And finally, the devil promises Jesus the world.  But again he refuses.  Jesus has no ambition for himself; he only came to love and to serve. 

Jesus won’t be distracted.  He has a big job to do, and he’s preparing himself for it. 

This Lent, we also have a job to do.  We all have to work on our hearts and minds so that we become closer to God than ever before.

The life of a Christian disciple is essentially a movement away from our flawed and inadequate selves, and towards the truth, beauty and fullness of Jesus Christ.

But what holds us back is our attachments.  Jesus tells us, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Mt.6:21).  Our goal, as Christians, is to attach ourselves to the things of God, rather than the things of this world. 

This isn’t always easy to achieve, because our world works hard to seduce us into all sorts of things that are either not good for us (like the seven deadly sins) or that we simply don’t need (like the consumer culture).  Once we’re caught, it can be hard to escape.

Our challenge this Lent is to find a way to get closer to Jesus. 

So, choose one thing in your life that’s holding you back.  It might be a possession or an obsession.  It could be an unhelpful attitude or an unhealthy behaviour.  What is it?  Let it go!

And having let it go, use this opportunity to spend more time with Jesus: sitting quietly, praying, reflecting and listening to his quiet voice. He’s got something important to say to you.

Our world is full of bright and shiny things that draw us in but ultimately take us nowhere.  They’re traps!  Lent is the perfect time to open our eyes to them, and to let them go.  Lent is the perfect time to get closer to Jesus.

Might that be impossible?  No, nothing is impossible with God (Lk.1:37).

[i] Bausch, W. The Story Revealed, Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT, 2013:47-48.

[ii] W Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.