First Sunday of Lent: Returning to Our “No Matter What” God
BY ELLIE HIDALGO | February 26, 2023
“I am as I am. I did not make myself,” says Eve in the imaginative book by writer and humorist Mark Twain in The Diaries of Adam & Eve. These words are Eve’s response to those who would judge God’s first man and woman for their innate curiosity that led them to eat the apple—unable to understand what the threat of pain and death could mean, not having experienced it before. They could have used a movie trailer to better understand what not-Eden would be like.
Sunday’s scripture readings about Adam and Eve’s fall from grace through the trickery of the snake, paired with Jesus’ resistance to temptation by the devil, invite us to reflect on our deepest human vulnerabilities.
After 40 days in the desert, a very hungry Jesus is tempted to turn stone into bread. He surely needed a piece of bread. The devil is beyond crafty in tempting his gut.But Jesus responds to the devil’s temptation with these words –
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”
It’s a reminder that our bodies are always in conversation with our souls—and that the solutions to hunger, chaos, violence, injustice, and fear will not come from bread alone. Love matters. So do God’s words of mercy, accompaniment, perseverance, courage, and contemplative silence—the needed graces which temptations cannot provide.
I am consoled by Lent’s invitation to return to God with all our heart no matter our failings. Perhaps Twain’s imaginative Eve is correct in shrugging off debilitating shame or blame. She begins to glimpse the “no matter whatness” of God—our merciful God who would send us Jesus and the saints to give us much needed light for our pilgrim journeys.
- Can you remember a time when you have experienced the “no matter whatness” of our merciful God?
- What word of God do you want to remember the next time temptation crosses your path?
Ellie Hidalgo co-directs Discerning Deacons, a project dedicated to contributing to the Catholic Church’s discernment about admitting women to the diaconate and to creating a more synodal, listening, participatory Church. Previously, she served as pastoral associate at Dolores Mission Church and School in Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles, CA. Ellie received her master’s in pastoral theology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Ellie Hidalgo co-dirige Discerning Deacons (discerniendo el diaconado), un proyecto dedicado al discernimiento de la Iglesia Católica sobre la admisión de las mujeres al diaconado y a la creación de una Iglesia más sinodal, de escucha y participación. Anteriormente, sirvió como asociada pastoral en la Iglesia y Escuela Misión Dolores en Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles, CA. Ellie recibió su maestría en teología pastoral de la Universidad Loyola Marymount en Los Angeles.
“I am as I am. I did not make myself,” says Eve in a Mark Twain book. However, while Twain’s Eve speaks two obvious truths, there is another truth she overlooks. In making Eve, the Creator who made Eve endowed her – and all our us – with free will and thus, through the exercise of our free will, the ability to shape and make our character and the kind of person we will be.
With her free will, Eve’s first decision is to believe a snake rather than her Creator God. It is by God’s gift of free will that we choose to heed our Creator, or choose another path. God invites, but does not force: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19). In choosing to be ‘like God’ by eating the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Eve was engaging in self-idolatry by following her will rather than the explicit will of God. How can Eve, and how can any of us, choose to be like God by disobeying God?
Adam was no better. When God asks Adam ‘why,’ he immediately, to use modern parlance, throws Eve under the bus by blaming her for the whole mess. But Adam had free will too, and he choose to heed a created being – Eve – rather than God who had created them both. Adam thus pioneered the oldest excuse for his sin by scapegoating Eve. Because we have free will, it does no good to say ‘the devil, or anyone else, made me do it.’ Christ was tempted in every way we are, yet did not sin. God has also invited us very explicitly to ‘choose life’ by following the path of life he prescribes, and God has also explicitly warned that any path that diverges from God’s way is to choose death.
We are all on the hook for the decisions we make. Adam and Eve had no excuse for deliberately disobeying the God, and neither do we. Because we are finite creature, our knowledge is (very) finite, as are our supposed insights and judgments. Jesus cautions us not to judge others because we can only judge by what we see, that is, by appearances, but God can read the depth of hour hearts and take every detail of our whole lives and the context in which we lived our lives when he judges us. We must follow God not because God is vengeful and looking to punish us, but because following God is the path of life to which God calls us again and again. God invites us to an abundant life, but never forces that life upon us.
God does not punish us, rather, what we think of as God’s punishment is simply the consequences of sin. The child who burns his hand on a hot stove is not being punished by his parent; rather, that child is only suffering the consequences of choosing not to heed his parents’ warnings about hot stoves. There’s a kind of spiritual physics here – we are have been created for love and service and when we choose to love and serve we are fully alive and have abundant life. When we choose not to love and not to serve, we depart from the path of life and choose death. God spares us again and again by his mercy and forgiveness but, if we persist in not heeding the Lord, we persist in choosing death.
I have enjoyed reading Mark Twain for decades. He was a brilliant satirist, but a crappy theologian.
Dallas, I so enjoyed your reflection . I smiled the way you shared on Adam and Eve, with such truth and humor. Thanks for that.
As we look into our own journey’s, I have made many wrong decisions, but by God’s Grace have experienced the powerful Gift of Forgiveness. We want to make our own decisions, however must Trust and Obey God.’s
Words to us. Indeed this brings Freedom.
I liked your writing on not judging, as Jesus has told us. We indeed do not know that person’s heart, only God does.
Only God gives Abundant Life as we open our spirit’s to His leading in our lives.
Keep posting, I enjoy your writing! God Bless.
It really amazes me how our Provident God was so down to earth with how He responded to the devil and Adam and Eve. Jesus knew what His Father asked of Him and with all the sorrow and pain and just loved us so much He carried out our salvation.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Also, Love is patient,Love is kind ….
Both keep me focused on the roll that I play in this journey of life.
Separation: sin separates us from the fullness of God’ s love flowing into our heart and soul.
God is ever merciful and invites us to follow Him ever so gently.
In my case I had dreams of how my way of life was preventing my relationship with Jesus. The addiction to overeating was likened to a church completely filled with rubbish. There was no room for Jesus to enter into my life. And when I finally found a priest who believed me, (bulimics aren’t obese), the grace of reconciliation changed my life. Jesus in the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, flooded me with His love. And the temptation was removed in my life. God is a God of love and mercy. We are not compelled to follow God, but God’s gentle love and mercy invite us to walk with Jesus and share His love and mercy with others.
The Lord offers nourishment for our onward journey. Praise the Lord.