The telling of the Jesus’ 40-day temptation by Satan always is proclaimed on the First Sunday of Lent. This year we hear Matthew’s dramatic version of the story.
The Gospel Reading depicts Jesus’ victory after 40 days of fasting. The very moment when Jesus is humanly weakest and most vulnerable to the wiles of Satan, Jesus supernaturally is strongest and most confident. The temptation is real. Obedience to God elevates free choice to perfect freedom.
THE TEMPTOR’S TESTING OF JESUS
First Sunday of Lent [A]
No sooner is Jesus baptized by John the Baptist than the Spirit leads Him into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). At the baptism we recall the voice from heaven identifying Jesus as “God’s Son” (Matthew 3:17). In the desert we witness the tempter’s testing through the expression “If you are the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3, 6).
The Gospel episode seemingly gripped the imagination of no less than Shakespear, whose stark warning is heard in The Merchant of Venice: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” The tempter seeks to trap Jesus by twisting Sacred Scripture for diabolical means. Jesus’ reply quotes Sacred Scripture, whereby the importance of waiting patiently and trustingly for God’s help is emphasized by our blessed Lord (Deuteronomy 6:3). We learn that it is God’s Word that truly creates and sustains humanity in all our needs.
Then, the devil seizes upon Jesus’ trust in God and taunts a public demonstration of such trust. Satan again maligns Scripture to suit evil ends. Jesus again counters the devil’s self-serving presentation of Scripture with a total openness and complete surrender to the Word of God. True trust includes an obedience which wholeheartedly permits God to be God. Just as there must be no forcing of God’s hand, so too must there be no forcing of God’s Scripture.
The tempter’s final temptation reveals the treacherous depths. With this test, the whole is at stake. Jesus response makes clear that there only is one God and He alone is to be worshipped and served (Matthew 4:23; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Demonstrating the Son’s unshaken union with His Father, Satan is sent packing!
We truly and really are God’s children. As such, let’s resist pursuing sensational resolutions to difficulties we face, instead seeking to find our way by means growing in understanding of God’s Word.