We are in the first week of Lent. This period of 40 days is a period of purification, testing, and preparation. “By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert (CCC 540). So at the beginning of lent Church proposes to meditate on the temptation of Jesus in the desert.
The Gospel begins by narrating that Jesus, immediately after baptism, was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. Forty days in the desert is an allusion to the people of Israel’s first generation, who soon after crossing the red sea enter the desert where they are tested and succumb to the temptations. So, Jesus inaugurates a new exodus by recapitulating what happened in the first exodus. It is narrated through three temptations.
Interestingly the three temptations of Jesus parallel the three reasons for the fall of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. “…the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). Three things are important here (1) good for food: lust of the flesh (pleasure), (2) delight to the eyes: lust of the eyes (possessions) (3) desirable to make one wise: pride of life. These are the three disordered desires that human beings have.
It is important to emphasise that these three desires are good in themselves. The desire for the pleasure of food is good. After all, God himself gives Adam and Eve “every plant” and “every tree” with its food for food (Gen 1:29). Likewise, the desire to possess created things is good. God himself gives Adam and Eve “dominion” over everything in the world (Gen1:26,28). Finally, even the desire to be like God is good. God himself makes man and woman in his own “image” and “likeness.” The problem is that Adam and Eve try to acquire these three things by abusing their freedom and disobeying God. They want to be like God, but apart from his will. By freely choosing to disobey God, Adam and Eve transform these three good desires into three disordered desires: pleasure, possessions, and pride. These are the reasons for the first human sin.
So, the first temptation Jesus faces is to command the stones to become bread if he is the Son of God. So the devil tempts Jesus with the pleasure of eating. That’s the lust of the flesh, the desire for pleasure. It can be any material pleasure: food, drink, sex, health, house, profession etc. The devil is tempting Jesus to use his power as the son of God to transform all of this earthly matter into things for humanity to give them their material bread. This is not a bad thing, but this isn’t Jesus’s primary mission. We, too, often think health and our profession are important, and the rest will follow. That’s where we succumb to the devil. Sometimes we also become devils by tempting God: If you are God, give me a good job, good health, etc. We even say we have prayed a lot, but we have not received the healing, then what is faith and what is the use of praying. So, that is the same temptation we, too, face in our daily lives: to live for material goods and not eternal life. Our response to this temptation must be like Jesus: “Man shall not live by bread alone”. Yes, we are not to live to eat but eat to live. Remedy for the lust of the flesh is fasting.
In the second temptation, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them and says, “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. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” Devil doesn’t say who gave them to him, but the obvious answer is Adam because Adam was created to have dominion over the whole earth. He was the king of the world, and Eve was the queen. But by sinning, they subjugate themselves to Satan. That is why Jesus calls satan in the Gospel of John: the prince of this world (Jn 12:31). Jesus came to the world to win back those kingdoms from Satan. By showing all the glory and splendour of this world to Jesus, Devil proposes an easy way to gain the world - Worship satan. That is the lust of the eye: the craving for possessions. If the first temptation was related to the material good, the second one is the dominion over the world, over the people. So, wherever domination over one’s fellow man is exercised, wherever someone is forced to bow down before such a fellow man, there, the devil is being worshipped. The best example we have now is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Likewise, we find domination sometimes in the parishes, communities, families etc. Whenever you feel to dominate your brother instead of serving, remember that you are about to worship the devil. The remedy for the craving for possession is alms-giving. It is not only an act of mercy, but it helps our hearts to grow in love for the poor and, through them, in love for God.
Finally, the third test is a test of pride. By quoting Psalm 91, the devil challenges Jesus Jump off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove that he is the Son of God. Interesting to note that Psalm 91 is a psalm of exorcism. Satan is tempting Jesus by citing this psalm and by interpreting it in a way that suits him. This is a reminder that Satan can distort any good thing to lead us astray. No one can be holy just because he quotes the word of God. The devil quotes even the longest Bible verse in this Gospel. So do not trust anyone just because he quotes Bible. Many preachers today are preaching the word of God out of context. That is the work of the devil. It is an important lesson for us as disciples because we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help us discern even the correct application and interpretation of Scripture.
Now the second part of the third temptation is to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. The way the Father will prove to everyone that Jesus is the Son of God is through “being lifted up at the cross”. Not by performing any jump so that everyone can see his power and glory. The power and Glory of Jesus will manifest on Calvary, not at the pinnacle of the Temple. So Satan is creating another plan for Jesus to show His Glory without the Cross. Similarly, we see Peter creates a project without the Cross. When Jesus says: “I’m going to have to suffer and to die on the cross”, Peter rebukes him and says, “this will never happen to you, Lord”. And Jesus says in reply get behind me, Satan; you are not thinking as the ways of God. Satan draws a plan for Jesus. Sometimes we, too, are like Peter, drawing projects that are contrary to the will of God. We want God to eliminate all who does evil; we want Him to intervene soon in the war. We want a God who sticks to our programs. Thus, we place ourselves at the post of Jesus. It leads us to doubt that God is with us in moments of crisis. Jesus conquers the pride of life by his humility and obedience to the will of God. So how can we overcome this temptation? Through prayer. For it takes humility to get down on his knees and beg God for help. Look at the prayer of our Father. One of the petitions we say: “Your will be done on earth.” By reciting the Lord’s prayer, we will be able to pray as Jesus himself prayed, from the infinite depths of his own divine humility.
Let us pray that we may grow and become more conform to Christ during this time of Lent through fasting, alms-giving and prayer.