At the beginning of the Gospel we find Christ being led into the desert. He was led there by the Holy Spirit, for forty days to be tempted by the devil. We aren’t told why God wanted Jesus to be tempted, but a reason is suggested by the rest of the story. The devil waits until Jesus is weakest. We are told that it was the end of the time, and that Jesus hadn’t eaten and was very hungry. This is when the devil decides to attack. What does he find? Though Christ’s body was weak, his soul had been made strong.
The devil decides to attack him head on; he opens his mouth, revealing himself. But Christ was the mouth of God, and he reveals himself through replying with scripture to each of the devil’s three attacks.
The first attack regarded bread. Jesus was hungry, and bread symbolizes all the needs of our bodies. There are many things in this world that we need, but do we need any one of them at a particular time? Can we fast from them, especially if it is for the sake of doing some good? Yes, in Christ’s time in the desert, he had become detached from the needs of his body. He was able to sacrifice his body for the good of others. This is important for us, because we carry on Christ’s mission. We also need to be free from the control of things which we consider needs. I may need sleep, but can’t I sacrifice it for one night to stay up late with a friend who is suffering? Yes many things which are needs, we need to be able to sacrifice at times, in order to carry out Christ’s mission. Christ had grown stronger in the desert, more ready to sacrifice necessities, even his body for the sake of his people.
The second temptation of the devil was toward the kingdoms of the world, power and glory. Do we need power and glory? No. The power to do and have whatever we want, this is a temptation toward extravagant luxury. Christ again responds in a way which shows his detachment from luxury. God is his center, only he does he worship. The luxuries of man have no control over him; they will not keep him carrying out his mission. Why is this important? Luxuries can have even more power over a person than necessities, even more power than care for one’s body, one’s life. Consider the sad situation of someone who is addicted to alcohol. Is alcohol a necessity? No, it is a luxury to be used properly according to scripture and tradition. Not to get drunk and not to damage one’s bodily health. But the desire for alcohol can be so great that a person spends their money on it rather than food, or chooses not to stop even when told that their liver is being damaged irreversibly. Having the next drink becomes more important than bringing about the salvation of the world.
The last temptation was toward Jesus’ relationship with God. After having failed to lead Jesus out of the desert experience, he attempts to attack the one thing that Jesus keeps referring to, the source of his strength, his relationship with God. He invites him to treat his relationship with God as if it were a game, with insincerity of heart. He takes Jesus to the holiest of places, to the top of the temple in the city of Jerusalem, and them invites him to jump off because God had promised to catch him. Isn’t this common to our experience? When a person is trying to make us fall and nothing is working, they attack the thing holding us up, our relationship with God. How many boyfriends have a similar thing to their girlfriend? They say, “God will understand, he’s promised to forgive us.” Enemies, not friends invite us to treat our relationship with God as a toy.
Jesus responds to each attempt expressing the authentic relationship between him and God. And do we see how quickly he responds? There is no consideration of the devil’s proposals. To each temptation, Christ is resolute, quick to responds, and by referring to the source of his strength, God the Father. The Holy Spirit had led him into the desert to be prepared for the “hour” of his ministry, the taking up the Cross.
You and I are being led by the Holy Spirit to enter the desert and become strong again. Let us fast, let us pray, let us give alms. We need this time to relearn proper relationship to necessities, luxuries, and God. To relearn the importance of Christ’s mission, not only with our minds but our bodies. When it is our time to make sacrifices for the salvation of the world, because of Lent, we will be ready.