Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Psalm 51; Matthew 4:1-11
The Orthodox Study Bible, in its commentary on our Gospel lesson, says, “(The desert) is a battleground, an image of the world, both the dwelling place of demons and a source of divine tranquility and victory.” Using this description, for Adam and Eve, even Paradise was a desert, a battleground, in which they were defeated by the serpent. Wherever we are is a battleground as well, wherever we are Satan is tempting us, luring us, seducing us to turn from God, to turn away from the Gospel, to volunteer for our own destruction. He succeeded with Adam and Eve, but failed with Christ. Who, in our life, are we going to take as an example? We mean to take Christ, to stand firm for God, to stand up for Jesus, but how many times, in the end, do we crumble and give in to the insidious urging of the evil one? I know I do, there is always a breaking point, and depending on circumstances; health, pain level, fatigue, even the weather, that breaking point comes really fast.
So what do we do? How do we become holy? How do we overcome? The same way Adam and Eve did; look at an icon of the Resurrection, who is it that Christ is leading up and out of the place of the dead? Adam and Eve. They had victory over Satan because Christ does, and so do we. We already have the victory, in our Baptism we died with Christ and were resurrected into our new life in Christ. We need to keep fighting the battles that come up every day, but as long as we keep fighting, our victory is assured. If our world is “both the dwelling place of demons and a source of divine tranquility and victory” we need to understand that it is the one because of the other. We gain victory and tranquility because we battle the demons and overcome in the strength of Christ. We may not win every skirmish, but then we retrench and keep fighting. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Rome, “But the gift is not like the offense. For if by the offense of one man all died, much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of one man, Jesus Christ, abound for all…In the first case, sentence followed upon one offense and brought condemnation, but in the second, the gift came after many offenses and brought acquittal.” When we break, when we fall, we repent, clinging to the mercy and love of Christ, and then continue the battle. Victory and tranquility also come to us when, as I said on Wednesday, we complete repentance with amendment. When we amend our hearts, lives and behavior, Satan has a hard time finding a chink in our armor through which to attack us. Adam and Eve, after eating the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were just chock full of chinks, they were ashamed, they were guilty, they were afraid, they were self-conscious and self-centered, not only before God, but before one another. And because when they fell, the human nature that we share also fell, we are subject to all the consequences of that fall. The Orthodox Study Bible says, “(Humankind) now has a propensity, a disposition, an inclination towards sin, because just as death entered the world through sin, now sin enters through fear of death…Adam’s fall not only brought mortality and sin into the world, but also sweat, toil, hunger, thirst, weariness, sorrow, pain, suffering, sickness, tribulations, tragedy and tears.” Wow, that is some list of ills, a regular Pandora’s box of bad news – unless – we remember the Good News, that in this battleground these things can also be occasions of victory, peace and joy. The demons only win when we accept their version of reality. But we have rejected it, we have rejected Satan and all his works and we are free, free to live in the midst of this battle in peace, in joy, in faith, because we say, with Christ, “Away with you, Satan!”
It may seem to us that we are failing all the time, that we are succumbing to temptation, that victory is so far away that we cannot even glimpse it. That is one of Satan’s most successful lies. It is only true if we choose for it to be true, if we live the lie. Victory is always within our grasp, because we are in Christ and Christ is in us and Christ has already given the Devil his walking papers. As St. Paul wrote, “If death began its reign through one man because of his offense, much more shall those who receive the overflowing grace and gift of justice live and reign through the man, Jesus Christ.” We receive overflowing grace in Christ, we reign over the demons through Christ’s victory. We have nothing to fear, they cannot hurt us, unless we agree to it, and even then we can take it back, we can reclaim our freedom in Christ and rejoin the battle.
So, it doesn’t matter how many times we fall down, but how many times we get up, it doesn’t matter how many times we fail, if, in that failure we claim the victory of Christ. I said once, in a homily a long time ago, that the cards are stacked in our favor, and it is still true, we can’t lose unless we really want to and work at it. Let’s work instead at living a resurrected life in the midst of the battlefield of the world, being a beacon of the light and life of Christ in the face of darkness and death.
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