The First Sunday in Lent
The Gospel. St. Matthew 4. 1.
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him..
How many times have we heard today’s Gospel lesson and thought, “what an idiot Satan must be”? I mean, first he tries to get Jesus to change stone into bread, as if he’s ordering a magician to perform some parlor trick. Next, he challenges Our Lord to take a header from off the top of the temple. Both of these times, Satan speaks to Jesus almost derisively; “If you’re really the Son of God, this should be no problem for you”!
Finally, he offers all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus, with the only stipulation being that Jesus gets on his knees and worships Satan. What nerve. What audacity. What a nut case this Satan must be to challenge the Son of God in this manner.
Well let me assure you that Satan is no fool. And in this case, he thinks he sees an opportunity. You see, in our Catholic Faith we believe that Jesus is one with God, indeed that Jesus is God Incarnate. And of course we also recall that Jesus is without sin. But what we don’t really think about, at least until Good Friday, is that Jesus was also wholly and completely human as well. This is where Satan thinks there’s an opportunity; he’s not tempting Jesus, God Incarnate. He’s trying to tempt Jesus the man.
Now, you may still be thinking, “so what? Satan’s attempts are doomed to failure anyway”. But if you are thinking that, you’re missing the point. Remember that Jesus was alone when these temptations happened; there was no-one else around to witness them. Therefore, it makes sense that Jesus himself told his disciples about it at some later time. And notice too that St. Matthew recounts these temptations in such a way as to emphasize Jesus’ humanity.
First, we are told that he fasted for forty days and as a result would be, quite obviously, very hungry. Next, Satan comes to Jesus while Our Lord is in this weakened physical state. Third, Satan tries to appeal to that weakened physical state by challenging Jesus to address his physical needs, then to prove his favored status with God, and finally by offering him worldly glory. All of these are appeals to that very human emotion and the one that I believe is at the root of all human sin; pride.
Satan is almost mocking Jesus; “If thou are the Son of God…”. Well of course, Satan knows full well that this is the Son of God, so it’s almost as if he is trying to provoke Jesus into some inappropriate action. Who here doesn’t think that Our Lord could have simply dismissed Satan with a wave of his hand at the first appearance of the old deceiver? And yet, he allows Satan to not only tempt him a first time, but also to spirit him off to various locations for repeated attempts. No, Jesus doesn’t lord his Divinity over Satan. Instead, he responds each time in a very human way; he quotes Scripture. Ironically, he quotes the Word of God.
Now stop and think about that for a second. We all know that Jesus was about to embark on his earthly ministry; performing miracles and casting out demons and generally showing us his power over the things of the world and the devil. But when it comes to these temptations, these tests from Satan, Jesus uses the Word of God.
This is a supremely important lesson for us. How often are we in situations of personal need or physical weakness? And when we are, what is the first thing we do? Well, we go to the doctor. We go the pharmacy. We begin to reason within ourselves and try to figure out on our own just what we should be doing and how we should be helping ourselves. Rarely do we ever think that the answers may be in Holy Scripture.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to the doctor if you’re not feeling well. But as we are reminded today by Christ himself, Satan will tempt us, test us, when we are weak. He may not take us to the top of a mountain and offer us the world, but remember; Satan’s goal is to lead us away from God. If we, in our weakened human state, fail to put the Word of God first in our minds and our lives, then Satan has scored a victory.
This is important to remember as we undertake our Lenten disciplines. During Lent, many of give up things that on the surface seem somewhat trivial; coffee, chocolate, alcohol, etc. And as a result, it likewise seems trivial to us when we “fall off the wagon”, even if it’s just for a moment. We forget that those moments are small victories for Satan.
It’s no accident that the forty days of Lent mimic the forty days Our Lord spent fasting in the wilderness. But the fasting that we are asked to do pales in comparison to what Jesus endured. One can imagine how hungry a person must be after such a period, even if we were to believe that he ate enough to barely subsist during this time. And yet, even though he obviously had the power to change stone into bread, Jesus turned to the only form of sustenance that any of us need; Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. And by doing so, he gives us the example to follow as we seek to maintain our Lenten disciplines.
In other words, replace your temptations with the Word of God. Tempted to sneak a piece of chocolate? Recite a psalm. Tempted to have just one cup of coffee? Pray the Magnificat. Tempted to sample just one class of wine? Read just one chapter of Proverbs. No matter what you have decided to give up, no matter what you are tempted with, replace it with God’s Holy Word and your life will be whole.
None of this is possible without Christ’s humanity. It is the humanity of Our Lord that prompted Satan to test and tempt him. It is his humanity that give us the opportunity to learn from the Son of God himself how we should respond when we are faced with the temptations that lead us away from God. It is his humanity that connects us with the Almighty in a way that we can understand and follow.
During This Lenten season, as we endeavor to maintain our individual disciplines, let us never forget that even as we are tempted to succumb to human weaknesses, still we have a shining example of how we many overcome and defeat worldly desires. By taking on our human nature, God Incarnate has shown us the way that leads to the ultimate victory over sin. By the humanity of Our Lord, God has given us all that we need to combat Satan; He has given us His Holy Word, Jesus Christ.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.