1st Sunday of Lent

My Dear People,

The temptation narrative in Luke continues the episode from Luke 3. Although there is a shift from John to Jesus, the location is basically the same: the Jordan and the desert. Moreover, the Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism, so now Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit.

As “Son of Adam” (3:38), Jesus is tempted by the devil as was Adam (Gen3). He refers to the chief adversary, the fallen angel (Luke 10:18), “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev 12-9). Referring to Gen3). Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus frequently mentions him and his nefarious activity, and his role in Jesus’ betrayal will specifically be noted (22:3).

Besides recalling Adam’s temptation, the passage echoes Israel’s exodus and desert experience. All three—Adam, Israel, and Jesus—are tested as God’s firstborn son (for Israel, see Exodus 4;22; Deut. 8:5). Having passed through water like Israel in the Exodus, Jesus is tested through forty days in the desert, as the people of Israel were tested for forty years (Num 14:34; Deut. 8:2). Israel, like Adam in the garden, failed the test. Specifically, the three temptations over which Jesus is triumphant echo the three failures of Israel: when in the desert they gave into their cravings” (Ps 106:14) in their demands for food (Exodus 16:3); when ‘they forgot the God who had saved them” and practiced idolatry (Exodus 32:1-6); and when they “tested” God. Therefore, Jesus who came for Israel’s consolation and redemption (Luke 2:25,38), fasts for forty days, eating nothing during those days, like Moses before him (Exodus 34:28; Deut. 9:18, 25, 10:10).

The first temptation, to command this stone to become bread, addresses Jesus’ physical need for food. However, it runs deeper since it also regards Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Will Jesus use his divine sonship to serve his own needs or those of others? Clearly, Jesus’ mission is directed toward others: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives” (4:18). His mission includes satisfying the hungry, (6:21), multiplying the bread (9:16-17), and ultimately, changing bread into his body (22:19).

Jesus responds by quoting the Scriptures—One does not live by bread alone (See Deut. 8:3)—a verse that recalls God’s gift of manna to the Israelites in response to their hunger (Exodus 16:4-35). Literally, the word “one” translates to a “human being.” Jesus is indeed “Son of God,” but he experienced temptation in the nature he shares with all humanity. The result is that because he was “tested. . . yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15) “he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb. 2:18).

The temptations of Jesus in the desert are intended by the devil to take him away from his God-given mission and lead him to embrace the role of wonder-worker. Of course the Devil tries anything he can to dissuade Jesus from his mission.

Here we see the devil interfere in Jesus’ life for the first time.  Our Lord is about to begin his public ministry, so it is a particularly important point in his work of salvation.  

We cannot understand the mystery – God submitting to temptation and letting the evil one have his way. Christ, true God and true man, made himself like us in everything except sin and voluntarily underwent temptation.  Jesus teaches us therefore that no one should regard himself as incorruptible and proof against temptation; he shows us how we should deal with temptation and exhorts us to have confidence in his mercy, since he himself experienced temptation. 

Our Lord’s temptations sum up every kind of temptation man can experience, for the causes of temptation are the causes of desires—namely, lust of the flesh, desire for glory, eagerness for power (Summa Theologiae, 3, q 41, a 4 ad 4)

By conquering every kind of temptation, Jesus shows us how to deal with the snares of the devil.  It was as a man that he was tempted and as a man he resisted: St Ambrose said, “He did not act as God, bringing his power into play; if he had done so, how could we have availed of his example? Rather, as a man he made use of the resources which he has in common with us. 

Jesus wanted to show us the methods to use to defeat the devil—prayer, fasting, watchfulness, not dialoguing with temptation, having the words of God’s Scripture on our lips and putting our trust in the Lord.

Yours in Christ, 

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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