3-5-2017 First Sunday of Lent
Mar 8, 2017
1st Sunday of Lent / A /2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Each year, on the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. It is a good reading for the first Sunday, since Lent is a season of conversion—freeing ourselves from the many temptations we face each day. As we look at the temptations of Jesus, we also think about our own temptations—how we face them, and how we overcome them.
Today’s reading immediately follows upon the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. When Jesus emerged from the water, a voice was heard, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." The beloved Son. The divine Son. The Messiah. And the question arises: what kind of Son and Messiah is Jesus going to be?
The answer becomes evident in the desert. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert—a place of quiet and discernment—and testing (like Israel). As Jesus begins his public ministry, he must decide what that ministry will be. Not surprisingly, Satan shows up—he has a stake in this. For Satan, there is one mission and one goal: 1) to tempt Jesus away from the cross, 2) to be a stumbling block to Jesus on his way to Calvary. And so the battle begins: the divine Son vs. Satan.
The first temptation is about food—Jesus is fasting in the desert, so he is hungry. But something more is at stake here, and Satan knows it. The real question is this: will Jesus use his divine power to serve himself? Jesus responds with a quote from the scripture, "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." In other words, we have greater needs than our physical needs. Our true hunger is for God—to hear God’s word and to keep it.
But Satan is just getting warmed up. The second temptation takes Jesus to the parapet of the temple. Satan tells Jesus to jump, saying that God will surely send his angels to catch him. In other words—put God to the test. Jesus’ response is that he will not ask God to
prove himself—he will not put God to the test. He will simply trust in God’s providence and mercy—and follow the path of obedience.
But Satan has one last temptation—the most important. He whisks Jesus off to a "very high mountain" for the third and final test, and it’s about power: "All this I shall give to you, if you will but bow down and worship me." In other words, will Jesus sell his soul, turn his back on God, and seek human power? Will he avoid the path of suffering, pain, and humiliation and become an earthly king? Or put more simply, will he deny God and worship idols? The answer is a resounding "no," —"Get away, Satan"—and Satan is finally defeated.
The three temptations highlight the mission of Jesus (the Gospel in a nutshell, in miniature) and the type of Messiah that Jesus will be: 1) he will use his power for the service of others, 2) he will place his trust in God’s providence and mercy, and 3) he will be a "suffering Messiah," who gives himself for the life of the world.
For us, the temptations of Jesus reflect the common temptations we all face: a temptation to pleasure, a temptation to power, a temptation to fame and prestige.
The message of the Gospel today is that true satisfaction and true joy come not from "grasping" but from "letting go," not from "filling up," but "pouring out." Jesus gives us an example.
St. Paul says in Philippians, "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a slave." From darkness to light. From death to life. From ashes to Easter.
As we enter this Lenten season, may God help all of us resist temptation, do good, and follow the path to life.