We all know we are imperfect but, as Christians, we remain positive and we are confident that the mercy of God is greater than our weaknesses. Holy Mother Church is very wise. She gives us the Holy Season of Lent every year to help us to prepare for the great feast of Easter. Easter is the heart of our faith as the Paschal Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus is the event from which life itself flows. The more we are prepared for the Easter celebration the more we will bring to it and the more blessings we can take from it.
Lent is a very honest time for us. Through fasting, prayer, and giving generously to those less fortunate than ourselves we purify our spiritual lives. In the course of time, we are inclined to drift a little. Attitudes incompatible with the love of God and the values of His Kingdom can find a home in us and conflict with the grace of God and our baptism. We even surprise ourselves when we act out of character knowing we have fallen short of how we usually speak and act. Lent is our chance to do a spiritual spring clean. We examine our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and our time in prayer. Things will be flagged up and we ask for the grace to acknowledge our sins and wrong attitudes and inappropriate attachments and change accordingly. Many things we find will bemuse some people. They will feel it’s alright to be like that, so many others are. We are being too hard on ourselves. But we are aware of our belonging to the Lord. We are Temples of His Holy Spirit, co-workers in the Kingdom of Holiness and Truth. We live lives that regularly reassess, seek to become more Christ like and change for the better. We are called to be no less than saints, and we will settle for nothing less.
On Ash Wednesday, we began our forty days of preparation/purification. We have ample time to repent and turn towards God making the necessary improvements and spiritual adjustments that will make a fruitful and joyful Easter possible. Each of us must respond individually to Lent. My faults are not yours and yours are not mine. Yet we travel the road of Lent as a community. Each of us must take responsibility for ourselves. It’s like the honesty box when you see free range eggs for sale at a farm entrance. Pay or steal? No one is watching. It is for us to be frank about what we discern is wrong in us and do something about it.
This Sunday we have Our Blessed Lord tempted in the wilderness. Temptations are neutral. They are bad if we give into them. They are good if we resist and are better for getting it right and being faithful to God. Temptation is essentially a trial, a contest, a test of loyalty and devotion. Life is full of temptations. Our response is what matters. We choose well or foolishly.
The Wilderness is the devil’s domain. The Spirit Who is the power bestowed in a special way at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, leads Jesus into battle on the devil’s home turf. It was felt in Jesus’ day that evil dominated the world and people longed for the messianic time to come which would reclaim the world for God and turn hearts to the Lord. The devil takes up the challenge but he is very clever. He waits until Jesus is weak from hunger and the absence of human company. Like when the devil attacks us, he knows when to pick his moment. The devil feels everyone has a price and he strikes when most likely to succeed. Mark’s account of the Temptations leaves out the three individual propositions from the devil to the Lord. We will touch on them as they are instructional. All three temptations are designed to weaken the bond between Jesus, His Father and His salvific mission. We follow St. Luke’s order of the temptations.
“If you are the Son of God, …turn this stone into bread”: Note the question of the devil to the Lord. Jesus has just had His identity affirmed by His Father at His Baptism in the Jordan: “This is my Son, the Beloved”. By calling this into question, the devil attacks the bond between Father and Son. For us, the devil seeks to loosen the bonds of love between us and God and each other. Bread can mean material things in general. The devil thinks he is onto a winner here. Surely Jesus’ hunger will win? He wants Jesus to renege on His Incarnation. To use His divine powers to avoid hunger. If the devil succeeds, Jesus does not fully share our sorrows, our insecurities, our despairs as He has a fall-back position, a way out; when its’s tough just work a miracle and it is sorted. The devil is trying to establish that being God prevents Jesus from feeling fully human and sharing totally in our condition. It will be the same on the cross, “If you are the messiah, come down off of the cross, save yourself”. Jesus refuses the devil’s temptation saying there is more to life than bread. He refuses the quick fix, the easy way. Jesus once said: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for the food that endures to eternal life”. Jesus knew that what people wanted is not necessarily what they needed. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and chose the better part: not to be focused on the meal but to listen to Jesus. The Good News will challenge people’s appetites, what they hunger for and see as treasure. Only an appetite informed by the Holy Spirit will enhance the person, serve God and lead to eternal life. The Kingdom of God will not reign in people’s hearts by following the line of least resistance. The language of love is dedication, selflessness, duty, compassion, sacrifice and devotion. None of these things are easy, there is a cost to true love. We have to choose often to feed our spirits first, to reduce us to physical needs is to make us no higher than the beast. I was once told by a fellow priest: “I have just been talking to someone who is terrestrially overeating and totally spiritually malnourished”. If Jesus had settled for a mere loaf in the wilderness, He would never have sat at table at the Last Supper and given us Holy Communion, the Bread of Eternal Life.
“I will give you all this power (kingdoms) and splendour….worship me”. Jesus is not fooled. The Lord wants all glory and worship given to His Father. Jesus comes to empty Himself taking the form of a slave in order to save the world. Jesus avoids any form of political or secular power. When the people wanted to make Him into a king, Jesus slipped away. Later, He could send for angels to save Him at the time of His arrest and trial but He doesn’t. Jesus’ way is the way of service not splendour. He was born in a cave and will die on the cross. The devil would like us to seek worldly approval, to live by its material values and be the object of envy. To be one of the haves not one of the have nots, distinguishable by our possessions. It’s easier to serve in the kingdom of the world, to resort to power that the hard work the Kingdom of love calls for. Jesus will teach us to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. To store up our treasure with Him. We know that all that glitters is not gold. We must be on our guard as the devil tries to confuse our values and muddy the waters.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down..angels..will guard you”. Throughout His public ministry, people will badger Jesus to work a miracle instead of all this teaching and preaching. Jesus criticises those who want to be entertained by His acts rather than transformed by His words. Jesus is Saviour not mere wonder worker. Miracles and healings may impress folk and lead to instant popularity, but only teaching brings about repentance and a person’s desire for Divine Mercy. Jesus didn’t want fans, He wanted followers. All three temptations come do to the same thing: to put the material before the spiritual, self before other, kudos before service.
It is up to us to undertake joyfully the discipline of this holy season. It will lead to a better you and me. Athletes put in the time, make sacrifices, push themselves beyond their comfort zone with their eyes on the prize. We know our life is one of adjustment and fine tuning. To be a Christian is to always feel a little unsettled, not content but trying always to improve. This is our time to put our house in order. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to identify areas that need God’s grace. Let us make the changes that leave us more the conduit of God’s love we want to be.
St. Augustine said: “It is through temptation that we come to know ourselves. We cannot win our crown unless we overcome, and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest, and there is no contest unless we have an enemy and the temptations he brings”.
Jesus bested the devil and won. He came out of the wilderness strengthened, focused, determined and eager. The devil intended to weaken Jesus, but had the opposite effect. He will return to pester Jesus, but on Calvary and at the empty tomb the devil’s efforts fail utterly and he is defeated. Let us emerge from Lent more clear headed, spiritually fit for purpose, and optimistic as to God’s grace and the good effect of our lives on others. It is up to us: put in the time and make the change.
Fr. Gerard X