Jesus in the Desert
Lent Sunday 1 Year A (Matt 4 1-11)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Jesus is in the desert alone, weary and hungry. The tempter sees his chance. Three times he tempts Jesus: self-indulgence, the dramatic gesture, glittering power. Jesus faces the tempter squarely: “Scripture says”; again “the scripture also says”; finally: “be off, Satan! For scripture say …” Does Jesus’ strategy remind you of somewhere else in scripture? “… Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, strong in faith …” (1 Peter 5: 8-9). When confronted by strong faith, the enemy will slink away!
If only Eve had faced the serpent. She was deceived. The serpent was subtle. The serpent questioned the need for obedience. Eve had everything. Yet perhaps there was something more; perhaps she was missing out on something. And so obedience to God was forgotten. “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone”. Dodgy workmen should be asked for their credentials. Serpents can be bright and shinny creatures but dangerous.
Do you really believe Jesus was tempted? Perhaps these three incidents are pious stories; invented, to encourage us. The letter to the Hebrews clearly thinks Jesus was tempted. Jesus is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are …”; “tempted … in every respect … as we are”. This should surely give us encouragement in dark moments!
Saint Ignatius’ description of the tempter is powerful: “the deadly enemy of our human nature”. Enticing though his offers are, he wants to dehumanize us. Jesus, however, being without sin, ennobles our human nature. Furthermore, Jesus, being God, draws us into the divine life, way beyond anything Eve could have hoped for, as she heard those words “you will be like gods”.
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Ian Tomlinson SJ