Dt. 26:4-10; Ps. 91; Rom. 10:8-13; Lk. 4:1-13
(Audio recorded live, 6 March 2022)
As we begin our journey through Lent, we may find ourselves wandering with Moses and the Israelites in the desert; we may find ourselves seeking unity with St. Paul; or we may find ourselves like Jesus in today’s gospel: fasting alone in the desert. Each of our readings highlights the importance of going without. In Deuteronomy, Moses commands the people to offer a sacrifice of the first fruits of the land God gave them. They were to offer this sacrifice in thanksgiving for the sustenance the land provided them, but also as a reminder of the time they went without. St. Paul reminds the people of what Moses said in his farewell discourse: The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. We have only to carry it out. And one of the ways we carry it out is by our confession of faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, who is the same Lord of all people. In other words, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, rather, all are God’s People. Lastly, Jesus’ temptation in the desert is a test of his human will. This happens at a time when Jesus is fasting. Will he give in to temptation as we so often do? Or will he rely on the Scriptures to avoid the slippery slope?
The temptation of Jesus in the desert highlights several steps that lead to evil. The first of these temptations is to put ourselves above nature. Rather than look at nature as something wonderful, amazing, inspiring, mysterious, beautiful, we are tempted to have dominion over it, to control it, to master it, to bring it to our own will. The second temptation is appealing to image. Rather than acknowledge the Divine image in each of us, we are tempted to give special importance to certain individuals, whether that be for superficial reasons, such as good looks, or because of some other status. Lastly, we are tempted to turn identity into identification. For example, those who identify as Democrat or Republican, Left or Right, Liberal or Conservative. This last bit is perhaps the most insidious because it turns good people who have differences of opinion into staunch enemies, all because we identify with what some “important” man or woman said or what they stand for. Have they not become like some idol?
Once these three temptations are in place, then we always seek to mutate nature, to bend it to our will. Then we desecrate it, which often leads to harm. And last, we always climax with subjugation, domination, and hierarchy of power.
Satan uses these three steps to temptation. He knows Jesus has been fasting, and he looks around at the abundance of stones, tempting Jesus to mutate nature, to turn the stones into bread. But, Jesus quotes Scripture: “One does not live on bread alone,” but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Dt. 8:3). The devil then uses another angle. He progresses to the second temptation of giving Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would just worship him. Jesus also rebuts this with Scripture saying, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Latria, that is worship, is due only to God and God alone. So, the devil tries one last approach. If he can’t get Jesus to manipulate nature, or bow down and worship him, maybe he can get Jesus to become an idol for the people. Then he would be just another god in the pantheon. And so, he takes Jesus to the Temple—the primary place of identity for the people, the place where heaven meets earth—and invites him to throw himself off the top of the Temple because it says in the Scriptures the angels will save him. Such a spectacle would instantly make him a god in the eyes of the people and they would be sure to idolize him. There’s just one caveat, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God….” The question of ‘if’ is a test not only of Jesus, but also of God, to which Jesus replies, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
That last one is a tough one. How often have we tested God? How often have we sought some status for our own notoriety? How often have we manipulated nature to do what we want? It would seem these temptations abound in the world around us and they are always knocking at our door. But, remember the words of St. Peter, who warns us, “Stay sober and alert. The devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.”
So, as we continue our Lenten journey, let us take time to reflect on our own lives and these very popular temptations of the devil. Jesus shows us how to overcome them. We need only to resist the devil, and he will take flight.