Lent is a time to break from our regular routine in life and focus more upon God. It is a time to take stock of my relationship with God and seek new ways to give Him top priority. Lent is a time to recall that I often forget Him, ignore Him, turn my back on Him and sin against Him. It is a time to beg for forgiveness, promise to live differently and prepare ourselves for the new life of Easter.
On this first Sunday of Lent, our faith is strengthened by the fact that Jesus was tempted. The great truth of Christianity that Jesus took upon Himself our human condition, initiated by His birth in a stable and confirmed by His baptism in the Jordan, is further manifest by the fact that the Spirit led Him into the desert where, after 40 days of prayer and fasting, Jesus was tempted by the devil. Jesus fully and completely became like us in all things but sin.
Each of the three ways that Jesus was tempted speaks loudly to us as Jesus followers. First, the devil tries to attack Jesus by means of the tremendous hunger he was experiencing at the end of His period of fasting in the desert. If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. The devil is tempting Jesus to misuse His power for His personal benefit. Jesus response suggests that He wants us to beware of the fact that we are both physical and spiritual beings, we have a body and a soul. It is too easy to focus on the body and its needs while neglecting the soul and its needs. One does not live on bread alone.
Each human person has a need for God that is just as important, indeed truly more important, than our bodys need for its daily bread. We need to nourish the soul with Jesus, the bread of life. We need to nourish our hearts and our homes with faith, charity, joy and peace that come from Christ.
The devils second temptation is also quite clever. He gives Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and offers Him all this power and glory if only He will bow down to worship the devil. First of all, this power and glory are not the devils to give away. Additionally, Satan bids Jesus compromise the Fathers plan by taking an ineffective short cut to His mission to redeem the world. Jesus response is clear and precise: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.
Human beings are incomplete and off track unless we worship the Lord God Almighty and Him alone. This speaks volumes about our need to gather in fellowship on Sundays to worship God. It also addresses our need on a daily basis to pray, offer our lives to God, and strive wholeheartedly to live in union with Jesus.
Finally, the devil stoops even lower in his effort to tempt Jesus by quoting the sacred Scriptures. The devil invites Our Lord to abuse His power for the sake of show. He takes the Lord up onto the parapet of the temple and asks Him to throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you. Jesus sees this test for what it is and responds, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
This third test translates for us into the temptation to the sin of presumption when we do stupid and/or sinful things, knowing in advance that it is wrong, and banking on Gods goodness. We presume that God will forgive us and take care of us. It is a sin of ingratitude and of pride. To sin is to offend our gracious God; to sin assuming in advance God will forgive is really to sin twice.
Today, our faith teaches us that Jesus was truly tempted in the desert. It is comforting to know that Jesus understands this aspect of our daily lives. Jesus shows by example that one can confront temptation and, by the grace of God, chose the way of the Lord. We dont have to give in to temptation. The way of Christ, which is the way of love, truth and virtue, is the path to happiness and to the fullness of life. This Lent, lets strive to give God top priority in our lives and remember that man does not live on bread alone.
Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.
Theres an old Gospel song tradition that speaks of the Christian life as a ride on the Gospel Train. But the Gospel Train not always and easy ride with perfect scenery. But you gotta get your ticket for the Gospel Train and stay aboard.
Mysteriously, the train sometimes passes through difficult terrain and lifes temptations. But just stay on board! Jesus too, on his way to glory faced trials, hatred, and even temptation (yet without sin).
Today the Gospel Train pulls into Temptation Station and we are asked to consider lifes temptations. The three temptations faced by Jesus are surely on wide display in our own times. What are these temptations and how do we resist them?
In the desert scene of this Gospel, the Lord Jesus faces down three fundamental areas of temptation, but all of them have one thing in common: they seek to substitute the cross for a couch.
In a way the devil has one argument: Why the Cross?! And his question is not a real one, but a rhetorical one. He wants you to blame God for the cross, and, in your anger, to reject God as some despot.
Well, pay attention Church, the cross comes from the fact that you and I, ratifying Adam and Eves choice, have rejected the tree of life, for the tree that brought death. We, along with satan (I refuse to capitalize his name) may wish to wince at, and scornfully blame God for the Cross, but in the end, the cross was our choice.
And if you think that you have never chosen the tree of death and that God is unfair, then prove to me that you have never sinned, and Ill accept that you never chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, over the Tree of Life and that you deserve something better than the cross. Ill accpet that you never insisted on knowing evil as well as good.
Otherwise, youve made the same self-destructive, and absurd choice that the rest of us have, and it is not God that is cruel but we who are wicked who are to blame for the presence of the cross. And, thus the cross comes not from God but from us.We ought to stop blaming God for evil, suffering and the Cross and look into the mirror. And the glory of this gospel is that the Lord Jesus enters into this twisted world of OUR making and endures its full absurdity for our sake. If there is evil in this world, it is our choice, not Gods.
OK, are we over blame God thing and ready to focus on our own issues? If that be the case then let us look to some areas of temptation that satan is able to exploit because WE indulge them. Let us also see the answer that the Lord Jesus has for these temptations. For the Lord, though tempted, never yields.
1. Pleasures and Passions - The devil encourages Jesus to turn stones into bread. After having fasted, the thought of bread is surely a strong temptation. In effect the devil tells Jesus to scratch where it itches, to indulge his desire, to simply give in to what his body craves.
We too have many desires and we too are told by the devil in many ways to scratch where it itches. Perhaps no generation before has faced temptation in this area so strongly as we. We live in a consumer culture that is well skilled at eliciting and satisfying our every desire. All day long advertisements reach into our mind to excite desire and to advise that we MUST fulfill our every desire and wish. If something is out of stock or unavailable in exactly the form we want we are indignant. Why should I have to wait? Why cant I have it in that color? and so forth. The advertisers basic message is You can have it all! This is a lie of course but it is told so frequently that we feel entitled to just about everything.
Some of our biggest cultural problems are problems of over-indulgence. We are a culture that struggles with obesity, addiction, sexual misconduct, greed, and an over-stimulation that robs us of an attention span, and this causes boredom to be a significant issue for many who are too used to the frantic pace of a video game or action movie. We have done well in turning stones to bread.
To all this Jesus rebukes the devil by saying, Man does not live on bread alone. In other words there are things that are just more important and bread and circuses, than creature comforts and indulgence. Elsewhere Jesus says, A mans life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Lk 12:15). I have written on this in another post: The Most Important Things in Life Arent Things
2. Popularity and Power - Taking Jesus up a high mountain the devil shows him all the nations and people of the earth and promises them to him if Jesus but bow down and worship the devil. This is a temptation to power but also to popularity for the devil promises him not only sovereignty but also glory.
Since most of us are not likely to attain to sovereignty, and since temptation is only strong in those matters that seem possible for us, I will focus on popularity. Here too we face a lot of this in life. One of the deeper wounds in our soul is the extreme need that most of us have to be liked, popular, well thought of, respected, and to fit in. We dread being laughed at, scorned or ridiculed. We cannot stand the thought of feeling minimized in any way.
For many people the desire for popularity is so strong that theyll do almost anything to attain it. It starts in youth when peer pressure causes young people to do lots of stupid stuff. They will join gangs, get tattoos, piercings, wear silly clothes. Many a young lady desperate to have a boyfriend and thus feel loved and/or impress her friends, will sleep with boys or do other inappropriate things to gain that love. As we get older we might be willing to bear false witness, make compromises etc to advance our career, lie to impress others, spend money we dont have to buy things we dont really need, to impress people we dont really like. Likewise, we can tempted to be silent when we should speak out for what is right and so forth.
All of this is a way of bowing before the devil since we are, in effect, willing even to sin in order to fit in, advance, or be popular. Here Jesus says, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.
The real solution to this terrible temptation to popularity is to fear the Lord. When we fear God we need fear no one else. If I can kneel before God, I can stand before any man. If God is the only one we need to please, then we dont have to run around trying to please everyone else. Here too I have written on this matter elsewhere: What Does It Mean To Fear the Lord?
3. Presumption and Pride - Finally (for now) the devil encourages Jesus to test Gods love for him by casting himself off the highest wall of the Temple Mount. Does not scripture say that God will rescue him? The devil quotes Psalm 91: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone. In our time the sin of presumption is epidemic.
Many people think that they can go one behaving sinfully, recklessly, and wantonly and that they will never face punishment. God is love! they boldly say, He would never send anyone to hell or punish! In saying this they reject literally thousands of verses of Scripture that say otherwise. But they have refashioned God, and worship this idol. God does not care if I go to Church, they boldly declare, He does not care if I live with my girlfriend. The list continues to grow.
The attitude is that no matter what I do God will save me. It is boldly presumptive to speak and think like this. It is true that Hell and punishments are difficult teachings to fully comprehend and square with Gods patience and mercy. Nevertheless God teaches it and we need to stop pretending that it really isnt for real. This is presumption.
I have written elsewhere on the topic of Hell and why it makes sense in the context of a God who loves and respects us: Hell Has to Be.
A mitigated form of presumption is procrastination wherein we put off our return to the Lord day after day. Of this it is said,
There were three demons summoned by satan as to their plan to entrap as many human beings as possible. The first demon announced that he would tell them there is no God. But Satan wasnt too impressed. Youll get a few, but not many and even those atheists are mostly lying and know deep down inside that someone grater than them made them and all things. The Second demon said he would tell them there was no devil. But satan said, That wont work, most of them have already met me and know my power. Finally the third demon said, I will not tell them there is no God or no devil, I will simply tell them there is no hurry! And satan smiled an ugly grin and said, Youre the man!
And thus presumption, pride and their ugly cousin presumption are widespread today.
Jesus rebukes satan by quoting Deuteronomy: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ought to be very careful about presumption for it is widespread today.
This does not mean we have to retreat into fear and scrupulosity. God loves us and is rich in mercy, but we cannot willfully go on calling no big deal what God calls sin and takes seriously. Hence we should be sober about sin and call on the Lords mercy rather than doubt we really need it and just presume God doesnt mind etc.
Our train is leaving the station soon. It is to be hoped that you and I have benefited from this brief stop and have stored up provisions for the journey ahead such as: insight, resolve, appreciation, understanding, determination and hope.
The journey ahead is scenic but also difficult and temptations are a reality. But as the Old Gospel Song says: The Gospel trains acomin, I hear it just at hand. I hear the car wheel rumblin And rollin thro the land. Then Get on board, Children, Get on board, theres room for many a more!