1st Sunday of Lent
Reading 1. Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Reading II. Romans 10: 8-13
Gospel. Luke 4: 1-13 (Temptation in the Desert)
As we begin the season of Lent today's first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us to look back and reflect on who we are and where we came from. It doesn't take much of an imagination for us to realize how close we are to the Israelites in the time of Moses. After bringing up their offerings to the altar, Moses tells them to declare:
My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
Most of us are descendants of aliens who came to America in the last two centuries. Like the Israelites, our ancestors were fleeing oppression and hunger at home and they thought that America was a "land flowing with milk and honey." Like the Israelites they brought their God and their religion with them even though both encountered prejudice and opposition. They built families, homes, schools, and churches and handed down to their children a better life than they had ever known. They became in the words of the Bible a "nation great, strong and numerous."
There was always the danger that success might tempt us to turn our backs on God and our religion and make us forget where we came from and where we are going. Temptation is the subject of today's gospel. Even though the gospel readings go through a three year cycle, the reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the account of our Lord's temptation in the desert.
Luke begins this account by noting that Jesus, "filled with the Holy Spirit," returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil." This episode then follows almost immediately upon the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan where a voice from Heaven had proclaimed, "Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased."
Luke says that Jesus fasted for 40 days and then the devil appeared to Him and presented Him with three different temptations. Lucky for us that we are such small fry or such easy marks that the devil doesn't have to personally bother with us. Our temptations are not so dramatic. One of the greatest Christian authors of the last century, C.S. Lewis, wrote a book entitled, "The Screwtape Letters," in which he described how a petty bureaucrat from Hell tried to tempt a young man with the mundane, ordinary temptations that we all experience in our lives.
Nevertheless, the Devil tempts Jesus in ways that we all can understand. Please note however that despite all attempts today to glamorize the Devil, our tradition has always believed that he is a liar. In fact, he cannot help but lie or otherwise distort the Truth. Even when he quotes Scripture, as he does here, he cannot help but twist the meaning. By the way all of our Lord's responses are quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy, the source of today's first reading. Our Lord is the Truth, the Devil represents the complete absence of Truth.
The first temptation deals with our basic human needs. Of course, it's not just about food and hunger. It's about all the things that we think that we must have to sustain our standard of living. Maybe we don't all want to be millionaires but we all know how the frantic search for the things of this world can destroy our basic human relationships. As our Lord said, "One does not live on bread alone."
The second temptation deals with the search for "power and glory." Lying again, the Devil claims that all the kingdoms in the world have been given to him and that he will give them to Jesus "if you worship me." Every day in the newspapers we read about some politician, CEO, athlete or entertainer who is in trouble with the law. Most of us are not such big shots but we know of the power struggles that go on in our own families, our schoolyards, our businesses and even in our churches.
At the Jordan John the Baptist said that he must diminish so that the Lord could increase. It is just the opposite with the search for "power and glory." Again from Deuteronomy;
You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve." What more incentive do we need to attend Mass this Lent!
In the third temptation the devil takes our Lord to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem looking down over the parapet 450 feet straight down to the Kidron valley. He says prove your faith in God by throwing yourself down for doesn't Scripture say angels will support you. He quotes the Psalm we used in today's Mass and from which the popular hymn "On Eagles' wings" is taken. Jesus says that spectacular stunts are not the way we prove our faith. Do not tempt the Lord your God.
About faith it would be good to go back to today's second reading from St. Paul.
"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved.
It doesn't matter whether we're Jew or Greek, or whether our ancestors came from a county in Ireland, or a town in Italy, or a tribe in Africa, or a village in Asia, for "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."