17 February 2013
First Sunday of Lent
by Mr. Jacob Boddicker, S.J.
What was it, exactly, that the devil was trying to get Jesus to do? It is helpful to look at what has preceded this story first: the previous chapter begins with John delivering sermons in the desert just before Jesus’ baptism and then, in a seemingly random change of subject, Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus before sending the Messiah out into the desert.
This is helpful in understanding the devil’s temptations in that the long list of strange-sounding names puts a heavy emphasis on Jesus’ very real, very complete humanity; after all, He did just identify Himself publicly with the sinners of mankind by being baptized though, truly, He had no sins to repent of. It is probably safe to say that when the heavens open and God booms, “This is my beloved son,” the devil hears it, too, and begins to see how problematic this is for his ultimate designs. Seeing an opportunity to strike Jesus while He is vulnerable he bides his time, waiting until Jesus’ humanity was far more a burden than a blessing, and then he turns the screw, tempting the God-made-man to shirk His humanity for just a moment and to satisfy His own hunger, establish His kingdom, and instantly convince everyone of His divinity. In other words the devil tempts Jesus into complete self-sufficiency, omnipotence and divine spectacle, all things contrary to human possibility; Jesus, however, merely rebukes the devil and embraces His humanity even further.
Just when it seemed the Son of God could not empty Himself any further, He does so, spurning His divine power and being content with human limitations. Here we see Jesus teaching us to be human, to rely not upon bread alone but by God’s providence, to surrender control and seek to do God’s will, to trust in God’s abiding, loving presence without demanding that He prove Himself. Seeing that Jesus wasn’t about to budge in the face of these temptations, Luke tells us the devil departed from Him “for a time.” Tradition tells us that the Tempter would return at the next moment when Jesus’ humanity was again a poignant burden, when again we would hear, “If you are the Son of God…” On that day it would not be anything regarding stones, kingdoms or saving angels but an even more tempting possibility: “If you are the Messiah, save yourself…”
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