This Gospel (cf Luke 4:1-13) is a great mystery: our Lord is like us in all things but sin. Here he is battling it out with the devil. Our Lord is weakened after 40 days in the desert, a time of preparation. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert in preparation for their entrance into the Promise Land. So 40 is a pretty significant number. In beginning these 40 days we are living a small part of our lives: we have our whole lives to grow in holiness to prepare for the ultimate Promise Land. At the end of our Lord’s time, He would have been starving and very weak. This is important: He redeems all aspects of the human condition. Holiness takes a lifetime of faithfully serving God-we are constantly facing one temptation after another. The only consolations we should seek are the consolations of heaven at the end of our lives. The devil makes three proposals to Him:
Our Lord defeats the devil at his antics. In these three temptations he undoes Adam’s fall. These three temptations encompass every kind of sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (cf. Jn 2:16). He first reminds the devil that man does not live on bread alone. This is a reference to the Israelites eating manna in the wilderness. Our ultimate hunger is only fed by Jesus’ presence in the Sacraments. If you have been away from the Eucharist, do whatever it takes to return-make a good confession, talk to a priest to be married in the church, if you are living with a significant other who is not your spouse, move out. LEAVE THE SIN BEHIND! Our Lord reminds us that living for sensual or sexual desires will never satisfy. It’s such a subtle temptation: that I can live my faith, have a relationship with Jesus, and grow in holiness without any real effort on my part. If I’m making lots of money, if I’m having lots of fun, I’m doing it right. Wrong. Our Lord fills our deepest desires, but He calls us out of our sloth, out of our laziness, out of our enslavement to physical desires. This is why the Church calls us to fast during Lent. Jesus in the Eucharist must be the center of our lives!
Then the devil offers Him dominion over all the kingdoms of the world if our Lord would worship Him. This power and glory flashed before our Lord’s eyes. The pride of life to conquer all these worldly dominions. Our Lord reminds the devil we must worship God alone, not worldly power or success. How much we want to rely totally on our own efforts-finally I’ve made it. I went to confession maybe, said a little prayer, did a good deed. I’m good to go, and now if I’m just a nice person I’ll have success in the world. No more temptations…It doesn’t work that way. We must struggle our whole lives. The Church calls us to prayer. In prayer, we are humbled—prayer is difficult, it requires sacrifice, we see how much we truly rely on God for our existence and our salvation. In prayer God gives us the strength to persevere through the desert of life.
The final temptation is that if our Lord would throw himself down from this great height that God would send his angels to rescue him. What Satan is doing is misquoting scripture. Here is he quoting psalm 91, but he carefully omits the next line: “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (Psalm 91:13). The devil takes the scripture passage out of context. If we take scripture passages out of context we have the devil as our example. Lots of people who write books about the Bible don’t believe a single word in the Bible. Not only that, but this particular psalm was actually written by King David as a psalm of exorcism over people who were being attacked by the devil. So it doesn’t make any sense for the devil to use this passage, but in his deceit he tried to twist the truth. So when we read scripture we always read it in context and look to the teaching of the Church if we have questions about certain passages. Here our Lord conquers the temptation of the lust of the eyes. We see so many things in front of us, and we will go to any lengths to obtain them. What an amazing sight it would have been to see our Lord in all his glory lifted up by the angels. Our Lord did not desire that.
The temptation is to go to any lengths for worldly success, whether it’s to stop coming to Mass, to not speak out in the face of evil, to cheat on school work or business practices, to treat my employees badly in order to save a few extra dollars for myself. Our Lord doesn’t call us to keep up with the Joneses. If we fall prey to this temptation we will think that the only thing that matters is what we see in front of us. Then envy, stealing, avarice soon follow. We become enslaved to our possessions and our reputation. The Church calls us to give alms during Lent—to be generous, to deny ourselves constantly. This reminds us ultimately it is not things that bring salvation. It is Jesus Christ.
“These forty days…symbolize the life of the Christian of each one of us. Let us then desire these consolations only at the end of our lives, and let us busy ourselves in steadfast resistance to the frontal attacks of our enemies. For whether we desire it or not we shall be tempted. If we do not struggle, we shall not be victorious, nor shall we merit the crown of immortal glory which God has prepared for those of us who are victorious and triumphant. Let us fear neither the temptation nor the temptor for if we make use of the shield of faith and the armour of truth, they will have no power whatsoever over us. Let us no longer fear the three terrors of the night. And let us not entertain the vain hope of wishing to be saints in three months! Let us also shun both spiritual avarice and the ambition which occasion (bring about) so much disorder in our hearts and so greatly impede our perfection. The noonday devil will be powerless in causing us to fail in our firm and steadfast resolution to serve God generously and as perfectly as possible in this life, so that after this life we shall go to enjoy Him forever.” (St Francis de Sales, homily, First Sunday of Lent)