6th March, 2022

Temptation of Christ - print woodcut

1st Sunday of Lent, Year C

There are two things that caught my attention after reading and meditating on God’s Word today, and more specifically after reading and meditating on the Gospel. The first thing that struck me was that passage saying that when Jesus went into the desert, He was filled with the Holy Spirit. And the second passage saying that despite being filled with the Holy Spirit, the devil still had access to Jesus and tried to influence Him in various ways. Satan could still tempt Jesus even though He was filled with the Holy Spirit. I think this small and inconspicuous detail from the very beginning of the Gospel can be very important and useful to us on our Lenten journey.

I think sometimes we can get the impression that if we are close to God, if we are very pious, if we are prayerful, if we participate in the Holy Mass, if we are very active and zealous, if we participate in the life of the Church or in the life of the parish, then we are fully protected and completely free from all the temptations of the devil. Today’s Gospel tells us something completely different. It tells us that our whole life is a constant struggle with evil and temptations, no matter how prayerful and pious we are – or in other words – how much, or to what extent we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter if we are priests, bishops, popes or lay people, we are all tempted by the devil like Jesus in today’s Gospel. Of course, only if we are filled with God’s grace, we can be much stronger and only then can we be able to resist all the sneaky attacks and temptations.

As we heard in the Gospel, the devil offered Jesus three temptations. Apparently, he hit where he thought he could find the weakest point. First, he urged Jesus to turn stones into bread. We can imagine that for Jesus who fasted for forty days, it must have been an extremely difficult temptation. In the Old Testament it was often said that the Messiah would provide bread for people. That is why the devil, by giving this temptation, said: If you are the Son of God, tell these stone to turn into a bread. But Jesus replied very briefly: Man does not live on bread alone, because that was not the purpose of his coming into the world to provide people with daily bread. No, His main purpose and mission was to feed people with something more important than just ordinary bread, He has offered them and each of us a spiritual nourishment that comes from heaven.

Satan, without giving up, continued to attack Jesus. Worship me, and I will give you all the power and glory of the kingdoms. As if he wanted to say: You will not have to make any effort, you will not have to suffer and die for anyone. Just worship me… And everything will be simple and easy, and the work of salvation will be accomplished in this very simple way. And finally in the third which was also the last of the temptations, Satan suggested to Jesus that only one spectacular jump is enough to achieve great success, and then people will belong to Him. But this time – just as before – Jesus firmly rejected the temptation of the illusionary success. When we look at Satan’s attitude towards Jesus, we can see how much – ironically speaking – he wanted to help and support Jesus in fulfilling His Mission. This was a very crafty tactic. It is not without reason that Satan is called the expert, the master, the specialist or even the father of lies and deception.

Satan’s attitude towards Jesus is probably well known to each of us. In each of us, the devil tries to find a weak point. On various occasions he gives the impression that he wants something good for us. He is like a wise and most experienced military commander, who before the battle, circulates around the fortress or castle several times and looks for the weakest part of the walls to hit right there. But the good news is that Jesus won the battle against Satan in the desert, although this wasn’t the final battle and the final victory yet. As Saint Luke mentioned in the very last sentence of the Gospel: The devil left him to return at the appointed time. When Saint Luke wrote these words, he certainly meant the moment of Jesus’ passion on the cross, when he overcame evil by showing the greatest obedience to his Father and the greatest love for each of us.

What else is very interesting about this particular Gospel? As we ponder it, we can see what kind of weapon Jesus used in His spiritual struggle. As the Evangelist says, He began with fasting and prayer. Moreover, He spent these forty days in solitude, away from people, away from the hustle and bustle. Moreover, at this difficult time of temptations, the Word of God was His only weapon. After each temptation, He always began his speech in the same way by quoting the Bible, by saying – Scripture says… Scripture says… We can all follow Jesus and use the same weapon in our spiritual battle against Satan. Fighting with him, with his temptations, with our sinfulness, we are very weak when we are alone. Satan is a spirit who is more intelligent and cunning than we are, but we do not have to be alone. If a military commander knows that he is too weak to win, then he looks for an ally. The most powerful ally in our spiritual battle is Jesus who is really present in the Church. Today as we continue our Lenten journey, He invites us to be more courageous and to rely more on the most powerful weapons which are the Word of God and the sacraments.

Fr Gregory