From the Rector: Temptation

In the Readings for this Sunday we hear about Jesus being tempted in the desert.

Here are some insights to that trial derived from the Catechism and the writings of Pope Benedict XVI from an article in the National Catholic Register.

Jesus’ first trial: forbidden food

The first trial is occasioned by the fact Jesus has been fasting for forty days, and so he is hungry. The devil invites him to violate the fast by using his powers as the Son of God to turn a stone into bread. This echoes Adam eating the forbidden fruit and Israel’s complaint against Moses for depriving them of the bread they had in Egypt by leading them into the wilderness. In rebuffing the devil, Jesus repeats Moses’ rebuke to the Israelites’ complaint (Deut. 8:3).

Jesus’ second trial: false worship

In the second trial (in St. Luke’s order of presentation), the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he will worship him. This reflects the influence that the devil had in the world order of the time, but which he would lose through Jesus’ actions (Rev. 11:15). It asks Jesus to play into the false, political understanding of the Messiah’s role that was popular at the time, but which Jesus himself rejected (John 18:36). It also echoes the temptation to false worship that the Israelites had in the desert, both at the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32:4) and more generally (Lev. 17:7). Jesus rebuffs the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, reflecting the fundamental requirement of Israelite worship.

Jesus’ third trial: testing God

In the third trial (in Luke’s order), the devil tries to get Jesus to put God to the test. Since Jesus has been rebuffing him by quoting Scripture, the devil now quotes a statement from the Psalms (Ps. 91:11-12) as the basis for the trial. In doing so, he inverts the meaning of the Psalm, which says that those who trust in God will receive his protection. It does not say that people should take reckless risks or insist on miracles on demand to test whether God will keep his word. That is an attitude of dis-trust. Jesus recognizes this and quotes back to him Deuteronomy 6:16, in which Moses rebukes the Israelites for having put God to the test in the wilderness.

What does this event reveal to us about Jesus, Adam, and the devil?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he “binds the strong man” to take back his plunder.  Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father [CCC 539].

What does this show us about Jesus’ role as the Messiah?

Many people wanted a Messiah who would seize political power and usher in an age of prosperity and plenty. But Jesus voluntarily undergoes hunger and refuses political power–a very different kind of Messiah!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:15).  By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert [CCC 540].

How can we relate Jesus’ time in the desert to our own experience of Lent?

Pope Benedict explains: Lent is like a long “retreat” in which to re-enter oneself and listen to God’s voice in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and to find the truth of our existence. It is a time, we may say, of spiritual “training” in order to live alongside Jesus not with pride and presumption but rather by using the weapons of faith: namely prayer, listening to the Word of God and penance. In this way we shall succeed in celebrating Easter in truth, ready to renew our baptismal promises [Angelus, Feb. 21, 2010].


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