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Making choices with Christ

Our reflection for the first Sunday of Lent is written by Fr Fernando Azpiroz SJ from the Ricci Social Services Foundation in China, which includes services for people living with HIV.

Every time we make choices in our lives and service to others, we are tested. From where do we get our strength to serve and to deal with the challenges we face in our ministries and personal lives? How do we accept our ‘nakedness’ when we experience our material and personal limitations and frustrations? How do we relate to those who work with us and those whom we serve?

The beginning of Lent is a good opportunity to reflect on how we make these important choices. Today’s readings remind us that our tests are no different to the temptations faced by Adam and Eve, or those that the people of Israel and Jesus Himself experienced.

The two trees in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve are the two limits that define our human condition. The ‘tree of life’ symbolises the fact that our own life, and all life, is a gift from God. God is the sole creator and source of all life, not us. This implies acceptance that our life in this world is subject to death – all kinds of death. This acceptance in turn expresses our trust in the love of God, the only one who can rescue us from death and who gives us true everlasting life. The ‘tree of knowledge’ symbolises the fact that it is not we but God who defines good and evil. Every time we act as if we were the creators of our own morality, the only ones to decide what is right or wrong, we put our existence and all of creation into great danger. In other words, we are Adam and Eve. The serpent represents the cunning way of thinking that is always creeping inside us, causing us to reveal our human condition (our nakedness) and to see God as our rival, and luring us to search for good and happiness independently of Him.

Following the same topic, in the Gospel, Matthew wants to show us how Jesus responded to the same three temptations that the people of Israel experienced on their journey through the desert. According to the renowned biblical scholar, Fr Fernando Armellini, these three “temptations” represent, in a schematic way, our wrong ways of dealing with three realities: things, God, and people.

The first is the temptation to greed, to accumulating more than we need, and to use our capacities to produce “bread for ourselves” independently of God. In the desert, God fed His people manna. He asked them to take every day only how much they needed, to teach them to trust in His care and providence. But they picked up more. Jesus responded to a similar temptation by reaffirming that God always gives us what we need, and that we should not use our abilities only to benefit ourselves.

The second temptation seeks to undermine our relationship with God, doubting that He fulfils His promises, demanding proof of His Love every time we find ourselves in a difficult situation. When the people of Israel had no water in the desert, they demanded a miracle to prove that God had not abandoned them. Jesus never doubted His Father’s Love for Him, even in the most painful moments, when He felt abandoned in His Passion.

Finally, the third and last is the temptation of power and domination over others. It is the temptation to exploit the authority that God and the community have delegated to us, by lording it over the poorest among us, instead of serving them. It is the temptation to adore the powers of this world, to be accepted by them, to exercise dominion over persons, to struggle to prevail over others, to be forced or to force others to bow down before another. This choice is manifested in every attitude and in every condition of life. The people of Israel built a golden calf to worship it. Jesus never yielded to worship any human power. He only listened to the Will of His Father, becoming the Servant of all.

The life of people living with HIV, and those who accompany them is full of these situations, where we are called to decide what choices to make. They are situations in which we are invited to make choices in Christ and with Christ. May this time of Lent be a time of prayer, fasting, and service to others, of asking the Spirit to help us be reborn in Christ, the New Adam. 

To read this reflection in French, please go here: Faire des choix avec le Christ

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