[1st Sunday of Lent, Year C, Feb 14, 2016 / Deut 26:4-10 / Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15 / Rom 10:8-13 / Luke 4:1-13]
JESUS went into the desert for us and for our salvation. Thank you Lord for suffering and enduring for ME. He was there for 40 days to undo the disobedience of the people of Israel’s 40-year sojourn in the desert.
In the desert Jesus enters into mortal combat with the devil.
Often the devil is presented in the media in quite a playful way. The sports car is advertised with the slogan: “Bring out the devil in you” or the ice cream called “Lust” with the line: “Lust, give in to it!” Dear oh dear. Anyone who knows about combat will warn you, “never underestimate your opponent!” Pope Pius XII realized that “the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.”
Who is our opponent then? Is it possible to overcome him? The whole of man’s life as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, is a hard battle, “a grim combat with the powers of evil… Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity” (CCC no. 409).
The devil is out to kick us where it hurts. Just look at the first temptation. Jesus is hungry so the devil tempts him with bread. The devil is smart – he knows the weak spots of man. As St Ignatius of Loyola tells us, the Evil one is like a military commander intent on attacking a fortress. He does not attack the main gate as it is too well guarded. Instead he circles around the walls looking for the weak spot to ATTACK! What are our weak spots? We need to know where we are weak so we can reinforce here. Like the man I know whose weakness is alcohol and that is why he abstains totally. Bravo! Don’t play with the opposition.
Jesus in fasting is practising self-denial. He makes a space for the Spirit. Fasting is a great weapon. Once I was being teased for abstaining from my favourite dessert, chocolate cake. But I am happy to fast and enter the desert (not the dessert!) Fasting strengthens us for the battle. Try it and you will see. You will not die! Even it is good to fast at times from things like TV, or Facebook. What could you fast from to strengthen yourself? Man cannot live on bread alone, or TV or the Internet alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
Ding a ling, round two. The devil then offers our Lord in an instant all the kingdoms of the world with all their wealth. Wow! The devil is powerful. How does Jesus resist? Our Lord knows one thing for sure. The devil is a liar. In fact, Jesus referred to him as “the Father of lies” (John 8:44). What the devil promises is enticing but he is a liar. Take for example an affair. A young woman we know has started to date a married man. What is promised is love, passion and fun. But the road to hell is gradual! As C.S. Lewis wrote, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” For sure this relationship with the married man is going to end in tears. We must see the deceit of the father of lies.
Once St Anthony had a dream and he saw the devil going around putting spikes, nets and hooks all around. When St Anthony awoke he asked Jesus what it meant. The Lord explained that the devil enjoys placing many traps around. Who can be saved? Only the one who is humble. When we are provoked, don’t bite the hook. When we are enticed by a no-go situation don’t take the bait.
Often the devil traps unwary victims offering an easy path or a short cut. To gain riches quickly but by dishonest means. Jesus is offered all the kingdoms but in fact they already belong to him. What is the temptation then? To get them without going through suffering, without passing through the cross. Jesus chooses the human way, a way of patience, perseverance and suffering, a way of love.
Round three and the devil (obviously in the red corner) attacks Jesus by questioning his identity: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Pope John Paul II said that the temptation here is to use God for my own interests. In other words not to put him first, not to put the Kingdom first. To use God, even my faith, my status as a Christian, for my own ends. Let us not put the Lord to the test.
Let us pray that the example of Jesus will inspire us. We too will have challenges and temptations this Lent. As St. Augustine reminds us: “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 temptation he brings.” Thank you Jesus for enduring, for overcoming the temptations – for us and for our salvation.