Young children struggle with generosity. They grasp and seize, yelling out, “Mine!” when another child begins to play with their toy.
This refusal to give — this desire to hold on at all costs — is rooted deeply in the fallen nature of humankind.
In the beginning, God created man and woman, sharing the very breath of God with us. God created man and woman in the image and likeness of God, creating us for total self-giving love.
Yet it was not enough. It’s never enough.
The serpent meets Eve and asks a question that is a lie: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Gn 3:1). Nonetheless, it’s a lie that introduces a thought in Eve: Perhaps this is not a God of generosity but a God of scarcity.
Eve answers back aright, but the serpent will have nothing to do with Eve’s naive trust in God: “You will not die by eating this fruit, but you will become like a god. You will become what God doesn’t want you to be!”
This lie, that God doesn’t want us to share in divine life, wounds men and women still today.
So, Eve seizes. She grasps. And Adam grasps, too, unable to pass over the possibility of living forever.
But the result of this seizing is the loss of divine life. Man and woman come to see themselves as naked; they experience shame. They can no longer look upon each other with love but instead are tempted to make use of one another.
They were created for total love. But now love itself is fractured. In trying to become divine, the divine life they were given slipped through their fingers.
But in our Lord Jesus Christ, we meet the medicine for human sin. We meet the salve to save us from our desire to grasp and seize power at all costs.
Jesus enters into the desert, into that original wilderness of creation, into that desert where Israel underwent the same test. He is tempted by the devil. The Word made flesh, fully divine and fully human, is offered the same deal as our forebears, three times over.
Make these stones into bread, showing your divine power. Prove your identity as Son of God and throw yourself off the precipice of the Temple, forcing all to believe in you. Worship the devil and you, the Word made flesh, will win over all the kingdoms of the world.
Seize the power. Set out to dominate others. Become God.
But Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, knows that this is the lie. To be divine is not about power, about one’s capacity to work miracles, and to develop a following at all costs. It is emptying oneself as an act of love.
Jesus will not turn the stones into bread. Jesus will not manifest his power as divine simply to gather a crowd. Jesus will not worship the devil.
Jesus fixes Adam and Eve’s original sin. He shows us that it is possible to become the new Israel that does not worship mammon, but God alone.
In Lent, our task is to follow the Son of God into the wilderness — the wilderness that will lead to the cross. To give up all those small ways in our daily lives that we seize power and prestige, fame and fortune, at all costs.
To fast. To pray. To give alms.
To be remade through the power of the Holy Spirit into the image and likeness of God that we encounter in our crucified and Risen Lord.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.