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Archdiocese of Washington

The Gospel Train reaches Temptation Station: Stay on Board Children! A Meditation on the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent


There’s 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 life’s 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 life’s 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 Eve’s 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 I’ll 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. I’ll accpet that you never insisted on “knowing” evil as well as good.

Otherwise, you’ve 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 God’s.

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 can’t I have it in that color?” and so forth. The advertiser’s 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 man’s 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 Aren’t 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 they’ll 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 don’t have to buy things we don’t really need, to impress people we don’t 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 don’t 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 God’s 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 God’s patience and mercy. Nevertheless God teaches it and we need to stop pretending that it really isn’t 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 wasn’t too impressed. “You’ll 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 won’t 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, “You’re 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 Lord’s mercy rather than doubt we really need it and just presume God doesn’t 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 train’s a’comin’, 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, there’s room for many a more!

21 posted on 02/16/2013 11:22:56 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: All
Sunday Gospel Reflections

1st Sunday of Lent
Reading I:
Dt 26:4-10 II: Rom 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit
2 for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."
4 And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"
5 And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,
6 and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.
7 If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours."
8 And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"
9 And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here;
10 for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,'
11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"
12 And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"
13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Interesting Details
  • This account immediately follows the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The spirit given Jesus at His baptism (3:22) does not lead Him into temptation, but is the sustaining power with Him during this time. As the baptism revealed His divinity, so the temptation story emphasizes His humanity.
  • The wilderness/desert was believed to be the place of demons (Lk 8:29, Lk 11:24).
  • (v.2) Jesus' forty days in the desert recalls the forty years of the wilderness wandering of the Israelites during the exodus (Dt 8:2). While the people of God's forty years are described as years of testing and failure (Acts 7:39-43), Jesus' forty days are those of testing, faithful and victory.
  • (v.3) "stone to bread": Jesus is challenged to use His power for His own ends rather than to obey His Father.
  • (v.4) "man shall not live by bread alone": Jesus' response to the devil is taken from Deut. 8:3. His responses in vv 8 and 12 are also from Deut. (6:13,16).
  • "Son of God": Luke refers his readers back to Jesus' baptism, where God had declared, "You are my Son" (3:22). Jesus, God's Son, is faithful to His Father and does not fall during His testing as Israel, God's Son, had done.
  • Jesus' testing in Jerusalem is the final and climatic one. It is in Jerusalem that the devil will return at "the opportune time". As Jesus is about to begin His public ministry, Luke directs our attention to Jerusalem, where Jesus again remains victorious and God's promises will be ultimately fulfilled.
  • (vv.10-11) The devil tries to use Scripture (Ps 91:11-12) to offer Jesus to test His sonship against the promise of God to protect Him. Scripture is no more authorative than any other text if it is wrongly interpreted as in this case by the devil.

One Main Point

Jesus' victory over the devil. Luke presents Jesus precisely as the kind of person John the Baptizer predicted: the "more powerful one" (3:16)

  1. What have you found most helpful in Jesus' victory over temptation?
  2. If the Devil could identify your three greatest weaknesses, what would they be?
  3. In your prayer, be with Jesus, imagine His physical weakness and His strong determination to obey His Father's will.

22 posted on 02/16/2013 11:29:17 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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