Today’s Gospel from St. Luke (4:1-13) recalls Jesus’ temptations in the desert for forty days. One practical consideration for us is this temptation follows immediately upon the heals of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. At the Baptism, Jesus is revealed as God’s Son. Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. In this moment, the ministry of Jesus begins, as does the Father’s will to save the world from sin.
It is not uncommon for all of us to have these powerful experiences of God’s presence at work in our own life, whether during a time of retreat, or as unexpected surprises at any given moment. Most especially, we have these encounters with Jesus when we receive the sacraments, in our daily prayer, and every time we spend reading and meditating upon sacred scripture. Just as Jesus encounters Satan and his temptations quickly following his baptism, we should not be surprised when we are tempted following our own visits from the Lord.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said: “Where the Holy Spirit is active, the counter spirit is equally active.” This is just a reality of the spiritual life, and we should not be surprised nor discouraged during our own moments of temptation. Satan does not want us to grow close or closer to God, and thus is ready at hand to try his best to diminish and destroy the good work of God within us.
The second point to learn from this Gospel today can easily be missed. As stated above, Jesus IS the Son of God. He is coming from a direct revelation from the Father as the Son. He is beginning his public ministry to now fulfill the Father’s will. Notice the temptation: “IF you are the Son of God …” The very beginning of the temptation highlights the subtle manner in which Satan tries to ‘soften us up’ to ‘fall.’ Perhaps one of his greatest tools is to create doubt and confusion.
How often have I felt this work of Satan in my own life. He loves to try to confuse me about my role is as a bishop, especially causing me to belittle that role in my own mind, or convince me that my ministry is ineffective. Jesus today teaches us to reject this taunt of Satan. How often do women think: “IF only I were a better mom, my kids would not have …” IF only I were a better wife, my husband would …” The same thoughts run through the minds of men: “IF only I were a better dad …” “IF only I were a better husband…” How often during my twenty three years of priestly ministry have I heard my parishioners come to me saying similar things?
Granted, we do fail at times, and that is why we have the beautiful sacrament of confession. Satan loves to use our failures to further this doubt and confusion. That is why we must let Jesus today teach us how to triumph over Satan by simply being true to God’s will, by being faithful to the life God has chosen for each of us. Growing in trust in God and faith in Jesus is our strength.
Notice how Jesus overcomes each temptation by trusting in God, by calling to mind versus of sacred scripture. These are our weapons in time of temptation as well. Jesus realizes that Satan is the Father of lies, and he has nothing to offer, despite his ‘tempting promises.’ Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and tells Jesus he will give these to him, because they belong to him. Jesus wisely knows the false premise of Satan. Psalm 2 tells Jesus of his true identity and all that the Father has given him: “You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day. Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession.” Armed with the knowledge that he is the Son of God and that God has entrusted to him the ends of the earth, Jesus is capable of weathering these empty promises of Satan.
We too, are children of God. In Christ, we have gained the promise of salvation and eternity. Jesus is our strength and our shield. As he is victorious over the temptations of Satan, he gains the same victory for us. Just as Satan had nothing to offer Jesus, he has nothing to promise us. Our faith in Jesus gives us the wisdom to recognize each empty promise in every temptation, and to find our victory in Christ.