First Sunday of Lent - Cycle C
1st Reading - Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
2nd Reading – Romans 10: 8-13
Gospel - Luke 4: 1-13
The Celebration of the Temptation and next week’s gospel on the Transfiguration date back to the 4th century. The desert was a religiously significant and symbolic place for the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. For the Jewish people, the most crucial time in their history, The Exodus, took place in the desert. Forty years in the desert. Remember, the Exodus was to the Jews what the death and resurrection of Jesus is to Christians. The desert is a quiet, distraction-free place to commune with God. It’s a good place to encounter God. The desert represented both a place of protection (as in the Exodus story) and also a place of death. (If you were lost in it, you would surely die.) There is one common denominator, however, complete reliance on God.
Ok, so we understand the desert concept. But I still have a problem with this gospel. I have more questions than I do understanding: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, He was led BY THE SPIRIT into the desert for 40 days to be TEMPTED BY THE DEVIL. I don’t know about you, but if the Spirit is going to lead me anywhere, I would prefer that it be “beside the still waters” NOT the desert thank you very much. I do an excellent job of leading myself into temptation. I usually run toward it. But I am called to follow the Spirit WHEREVER it leads me.
What possibly could be the purpose of tempting Christ? To demonstrate that while fully divine, He was also fully human? He hungered, He thirsted? Was it his opportunity to go through a discernment process to better understand the will of the Father? This event was a prelude to Jesus’ ministry. Scholars say that this event is shorthand for the temptations Jesus had to deal with through his ministry: But Jesus’ reign was a reign of service, not power. In this instance, discernment came in the back door. Jesus was shown what His ministry would NOT be about.
Was the purpose of the event to set an example of Jesus’ obedience and complete reliance on God? Was it to demonstrate that Satan is alive and working very hard at keeping even God Himself from His mission? Satan is not a symbol or an idea. Satan even quoted scripture. He even says, “I’ll be back.” Surely if Satan thinks he can tempt God, he must have my number too. Could Luke be trying to convey to his readers that just because you are now baptized, it doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy for you? For Jesus, this is when it really got tough. Temptation often comes during and after a high point in our spiritual lives or ministries.
Like I said earlier, I have more questions than answers. But I do know that God wants me to find my desert. This gospel has always been a scary story for me, but if we think about it, Jesus’ temptations are no different than the ones I encounter every day. Simply, control over things, control over people and control over God. We have the same three choices Jesus had.
• Seize control for ourselves
• Hand it over to Satan
• Or yield to the will of God
In this story, it is the Father that remains in control. We get a more direct and dramatic example of yielding control in Gethsemane when Jesus prays, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
This gospel is good news. Jesus was victorious over Satan’s temptations. He was prepared just as I am asked to be prepared. I do know that this gospel and the season of Lent call us to a distraction-free place for a period of personal reflection and discernment. I do know that we need to learn how to recognize temptation and how to overcome it. Again, the gospel calls us into participation. We must empty ourselves, work on our mission of service which inevitably will lead us to the cross and ultimately to the resurrection and eternal life.
Where do I find myself in the desert?
How can I best prepare to make my profession of faith this Lent?
Is there any spiritual value that might be gained from undergoing temptation?