On the Cross love was confronted by sin and death. This confrontation reached its climax on the day of Jesus' death, yet the struggle between the forces of life-giving love and death-bringing sin began at the beginning of the world with the first generation of human beings.
On Calvary sin and death seemed to come to the brink of defeating Christ. Yet, in reality, Christ's obedience in love to the Father cancelled out the disobedience of sin, and by his death Christ exhausted death, pouring forth new life in the Resurrection.
The three readings for this, the first Sunday of Lent, recount the history of this confrontation. The passage from Genesis tells us of the creation of the first humans and of their disobedience to God's command.
Creation was itself the first act of God's love. To love is to will the good and God in creating willed to share his goodness in the form of the myriad goods of the world. God loved his world into existence.
Our first parents were created as the climax of the material world fashioned by God. Created in the image of God they alone were able to know and love God and to share in God's creative work, to share in his loving activity.
Yet in wishing the lesser good of freedom from God they chose not to will the greater good which is God. They refused the obedience of love for the disobedience of sin. In the letter to the Romans Paul tells us that through sin came death. Any life, however briefly enjoyed, is already a precious gift from God, yet unending fullness of life was offered to man and woman, if they acknowledged him and desired him as the source of all life.
The primal human sin consisted in the desire for independence, the refusal to trust in the wisdom of God's commandment and the choice to obey and serve instead what was not God. Human disobedience was the rejection of the offer of life and the welcoming instead of the universal sway of sin and death.
Today's Gospel passage tells of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness at the very beginning of his ministry and of his slow journey to rejection and death. The temptations disclose Jesus as the one whose life was to be one of perfect obedience in love to God.
Each of the three temptations threatens to undermine the proper relationship between human beings and God. Instead of dependence on God, on trust in God and worship of God, Jesus is urged to assert his independence in providing for himself, to attempt to coerce God and control him and to worship the creature. These temptations mirror the first sin of human beings.
Jesus' refusal to swerve from his whole-hearted obedience was to be the mark of all the acts of his life, but it was to be most manifest when he comes willingly to die rather than succumb to the forces of sin and death.
Jesus could have given in to the sin of the world and ceased to proclaim the truth, which gained for him the opposition of the world. He could have yielded to the culture of death and fought violence with violence. Instead, manifesting the love of the Father for his world in his perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus recreated humanity in uniting it to himself, the perfect Image of the Father.
As Paul again tells us, the sin-forgiving and life- restoring grace which resulted from Christ's obedience did not just counter, but far exceeded the reign of sin and death which resulted from Adam's disobedience. As we begin this Lent we look forward to joyfully singing the line of the Exsultet:
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer !