We have today another well- known moment in the life of Jesus. The familiarity of these Gospel stories can work against us in that we can too quickly dismiss the accounts as if to say: “I’ve heard this before, tell me something I do not know.” But have we ‘dug into’ this account to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the depths of its meaning; the application of that meaning to my own life?
We see in this account Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, immediately following his revelation as the Son of God during his baptism in the Jordan. St. Luke tells us that Jesus was led into the desert or wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan. This is important. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus.
I found myself asking where did Jesus walk during this entry into the wilderness and what did the Holy Spirit reveal to him? He walked no doubt paths trod by the kings and prophets of Israel. He probably walked along the same paths the Ark of the Covenant was carried as the People of Israel entered the Promised Land. In a sense, the Holy Spirit would I believe have unfolded for Jesus the history of the People of God, revealing their infidelities to the Covenant and their need for a Savior.
Psalm 78 says: “How often they defied him in the wilderness and caused him pain in the desert!” In the same Psalm it also says: “They strayed, as faithless as their fathers… With their mountain shrines they angered him… God saw and was filled with fury: he utterly rejected Israel.”
St. Luke then goes on to say that during these forty days Jesus ate nothing. He tells us that it was at the end of these forty days the devil approaches with the temptations described for us. But before we look at these temptations, let us speculate about the forty days. If the journey into the wilderness could have been an instruction in the faithlessness of the people who came before Jesus, perhaps the forty days were a time of seeing all the people and the sins and infidelities that would come after him.
It is easy to picture Jesus in prayer with the Father during these forty days. It is perhaps even tempting to think that this would have been a simple and enjoyable matter for Jesus in his Divinity. But Jesus is both human and divine, and as his divinity gave him an intimate communion with the Father, we must also realize that in his humanity he carried us with him into the desert.
St. Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms makes this point very clearly: “If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.”
For me, this is a new insight: Jesus took us with him into these forty days. Another way of saying this is that Jesus did not suffer these temptations for himself; he endured and triumphed over these temptations for our sake. The lesson is for us that we are to endure the trials, temptations, sufferings of our life for others. Our Lenten resolutions are not solely for our personal growth in virtue and holiness, but provide a means of solidarity with Jesus and all the members of his body. In Jesus we find our strength as St. Paul says today in the Letter to the Romans: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
One final thought about what Jesus endured during these forty days prior to the temptations revealed in today’s Gospel. How often have you tried to pray quietly for just 15 minutes, an hour? Have you ever made a retreat, say for just five or eight days? Have you made a serious effort to pray for an hour three times a day? If you have, you know where I am going with this thought: distractions! Imagine all that was revealed to Jesus in prayer during these forty days. He more than likely would have placed before him not only our sins but the means of his passion by which he would redeem us.
Surely Satan did not leave Jesus alone during these forty days. There would have been many attempts to distract him from prayer, from communion with the Father, from strengthening his will for such a self-gift and cosmic consequence. Again, a simple lesson for us: Prayer, communion with God, is essential for us to carry out the work God gives each of us. Just as Jesus did not let the distractions of Satan keep him from this vital moment of preparation to fulfill the Father’s will, we too must persevere in prayer to know and accomplish the will of God in our lives.
Now let us look at these temptations. First, Satan asks Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The first question that comes to mind is “Did Satan truly know the divinity of Jesus?” Was the divinity of Jesus hidden from Satan? Or was Satan simply posing this as a part of the temptation to make Jesus prove his divinity? I would love to explore this line of questioning further, but we have not the time today.
What was Jesus’ response: “One does not live on bread alone.” Later in his ministry, Jesus adds: “but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Here, Satan is taking bread or food, as representative of all the appetites of the body as a means of temptation. Here we can easily relate. Jesus’ response puts the human need for food and all the other appetites in their proper order. We are not to use the natural appetites of the body for pleasure or self-satisfaction, but for their proper means of sustaining us according to God’s will.
For example, we live in a world where obesity, as related to overeating is a major health problem. Perhaps the most misused appetite of the human person, and the one most separated from God’s intention for its proper use is our sexual desires. We live in a world where sex has become a major industry. Statistics tell us that many suffer from addictions to sex and pornography. Polls tell us that many if not most married couples use some means of artificial birth control. And we are painfully aware of the tens of millions of unborn children who have been murdered through abortion. How many other addictions surface from pleasure derived from a natural appetite, and its separation from a proper relationship with God?
Lesson to be learned; Lent calls us to self-discipline. Lent recalls that we are created by God for communion with God. Living in right relationship with God leads to right ordered relationships with one another.
Second temptation: Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and says: “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus’ response: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
This temptation for me clearly reveals Satan as the father of lies. This, too, is another lesson for us to learn. Satan is a master of deception. It is only by Jesus obedience to and service of the Father that will make him King of Kings. What do the scriptures tell us? Psalm 2 says: “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’ Ask and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and as your possession, the ends of the earth.” The Letter to the Colossians tells us: “For in him [Jesus] were created all things in heaven and on earth”. (1:16) Perhaps this temptation reveals that Satan is the most deceived of all of us. Never-the-less, we all know the power of his deceptions, and the Gospel today is teaching us that Jesus is our only power against him. Ultimately, this temptation shows the corrupting nature of power.
Final Temptation, Satan leads Jesus to Jerusalem to the top of the parapet of the temple and challenges him to throw himself off and see if God will save him. Jesus’ response: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Notice that this temptation takes place over the temple itself, the very place that represents the dwelling place of God to the people of Israel. This temptation takes place in manner that reveals its true nature, which is the temptation for us to put ourselves above God.
This is the great human temptation: we want to be God. We want God to serve our needs rather than humbly recognize that we are created for God. Our greatest glory is our love and service of God. Our greatest good is giving all the glory and praise to God. Lent calls us back to a profound understanding of the will of God and a renewed effort to fulfill it.
The great doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer sums up the challenge and desire before us:
Through Him, and with Him, and in Him,
O, God, Almighty Father,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All Glory and Honor is Yours,
Forever, and ever,