In today’s gospel, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for a time of prayer, fasting and temptation. this sounds a lot like Lent doesn’t it? During Lent, the Church encourages her children to pray more and to deny themselves through fasting, abstinence from meat, and other acts of penance. And, of course, when we commit ourselves to an increase of good actions, temptations are sure to follow…an extra hour of ‘interesting’ television instead of praying the Stations of the Cross, a delicious-looking hot fudge sundae even though we’re trying to give up sweets as a form of penance, temptations run rampant.
When Jesus finishes his forty days and forty nights of fasting in the desert, He is hungry. This shouldn’t surprise us because, after all, Jesus was human, just like us. He was probably feeling a bit weak after fasting for that length of time.
The tempter, or the devil, knows just how to use our weaknesses to trap us. So he took this opportunity to offer Jesus three significant temptations. Why would Jesus allow himself to be tempted when with the flick of his hand he could have sent the tempter away? St. Augustine tells us that it was for us that He allowed himself to be tempted. St. Augustine says: Jesus made us one with Him when He chose to be tempted by Satan….In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received His flesh from your nature, by His own power gained salvation for you….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 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.”
So Jesus accepts temptation for us so that He might gain victory for us over temptation and show us how to conquer during our own battles with the enemy.
The devil tempts Jesus in three ways. First, he asks Him to use His power to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. Second, he invites Him to throw Himself off the top of the Temple. Third, he offers Him all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would bow down and worship him.
When the devil turns stone into bread, he is really asking Jesus to use (or misuse) His power for selfish, materialistic reasons. He’s asking Jesus to put Himself first, to use His divine power to satisfy His human hunger. Are we sometimes tempted to misuse our divinely-given talents and abilities? Do we act selfishly and put ourselves and our wants and needs before the wants and needs of others: Are we too focused on material things? Do we let our hunger and thirst for possessions rule our lives?
After Jesus shoots him down with a strong reminder that people don’t live by bread alone but on the words of God, the devil tries again. He take Jesus up to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world. All Jesus has to do to rule these kingdoms is to bow down and worship the devil. This is the worst kind of idolatry and denial of God. Most people wouldn’t go that far, of course. They don’t actually worship the devil but they do create idols for themselves. Do we ‘worship’ money or possessions? Do things hold a higher place in our lives than God does? Do I have any idols in my life right now?
Finally, the tempter take Jesus up on the Temple and invites Him to jump, reminding Jesus (in the language of Scripture) that God had promised angels to support Him. Essentially by jumping, Jesus would make God prove Himself. By performing such a challenging action, a person would actually be implicitly claiming to be greater than God. God would be called upon as a mere servant who must do His creature’s will and save him from breaking every bone in his body. Do we do the equivalent of this sometimes when we get ourselves in messes of our own making and then expect God to pull us out? Do we test God by demanding signs from Him? Do we want God to do our will instead of lovingly accepting His infinitely wise will?
There is enough food for meditation in these three temptations to do us for all of Lent. Perhaps we could spend some serious time reflecting on the temptations and how they are acted out in our lives. Is my response the same as Jesus’ response? If not, why and what can I do about it these next 40 days.
Let us remember our Parish in prayer during this holy season of Lent.