Lent First Sunday

Jesus overcomes temptation. (Matthew 4:1-11)

INTRODUCTION

Lent is a period of renewal and preparation for the Great Feast of Easter. Our special Lenten exercises like Imposition of Ashes at the beginning of Lent, Stations of the Cross, fasting, abstinence, and charitable works should help us purify spiritually so that we also rise with Jesus to eternal life. Jesus revised the laws of the old, stating that our love of God and service of neighbor should come from our heart. Fasting of Jesus as part of his communion with the Father and his overcoming of temptations using Holy Scripture as his defense are models for our spiritual renewal.

Bible Text

(1) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (2) He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. (3) The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (4) He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (5) Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, (6) and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” (7) Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (8) Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, (9) and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” (10) At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (11) Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Difference in the Observance of Great Lent

According to the Latin Rite, the Great Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Since Sundays are for the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, they are exempt from Lenten observance. When excluding the six Sundays during the season of the Great Lent, there are only 40 days for Lent.

The Eastern churches have 50 days for the Great Lent starting with seven Sundays before Easter (Petratha) and ending with Easter. The lent is observed continuously for 40 days as Jesus fasted in the wilderness. The culmination of this is on the 40th Friday. The following days are for the observance of the passion of the Lord and his glorious resurrection. Thus the 50 days Lent starts with the feast of Petratha (The Eve of Great Fast) and ends with the great feast of Easter.

 Interpretation

After his baptism, Jesus immediately went for 40 days of fasting followed by three tests which he successfully completed. According to Biblical numerology 40 stands for preparation, purification, or test; and three stands for emphasis (superlative like Holy, Holy, Holy meaning Most Holy) or completeness. Number three is used 467 times in the Bible and is the first of the four numbers that stand for spiritual perfection (3, 7, 10 and 12). Trinity, three righteous patriarchs before (Abel, Enoch and Noah) and three righteous "fathers" after the deluge (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), 27 books of the New Testament (3x3x3), Jesus taking three disciples (Peter, James and John) to special places (like mount of Transfiguration, rising of Jairus’ daughter and to the Garden of Gethsemane), Peter was asked three times to express his love to Jesus before making him head of the church, Jesus spent three years doing his public ministry and training his disciples, three prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus suffering on the cross for three hours, Jesus pinned to the cross with three nails, three hours of darkness at the time of his crucifixion, Jesus rising from the dead on the third day are examples of the importance of three in the Bible. Jesus successfully overcame three tests shows the perfection of his control over the evil.

Jesus was in the desert with fasting and spiritual preparation for 40 days. Israel, the old son of God, was in the desert wandering and lacking in resources like food and water for 40 years in preparation for their entry into the promised land of Canaan. This delay was because of their disobedience to God. Jesus overcame the tests through his compliance with God. Jesus used Bible verses given in the Book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13, 16) to resist his temptations.

(1) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

Led by the Spirit
Jesus had received the Spirit of God at the time of baptism at River Jordan. After his glory, he was led to test according to God’s own plan. His test happened immediately after his 40 days of spiritual union with God just as Moses did on Mount Sinai for 40 days. Moses’ test after 40 days was handling of the idolatrous worship of his people. For Jesus, it was his physical and mental challenge to face his severe hunger.

Into the desert
Desert has been considered as an ideal place for fasting, prayer, and to be in communion with God. It provided silence, seclusion, non-proximity to material goods, and concentration for prayer. Moses, Prophet Elijah, the Essenes community, John the Baptist, and many early fathers of the church selected desert as perfect place for communion with God. Jesus also selected desert for his spiritual nourishment in preparation for his public ministry.

Tested or tempted by the devil
A test comes from God and temptation from Satan and not vice versa. God would never tempt a person to do evil. Whereas, the purpose of Satan is to lead us to sin against God. When God allows a person to be tested, the devil might take over as in the case of the story of Job. The Spirit led Jesus to the desert for testing his integrity as a human person. The devil took over as the tempter. Test is a challenging situation where we make a choice between acceptance or rejection of our loyalty to God. Satan might even manipulate the Word of God, to make us sin against the Divine as he did to Eve and to Jesus. Our response is significant. Adam and Eve failed where Jesus succeeded.

The Greek word for “to be tempted” (peirazein) means to assess like we test-drive a car before we buy or interview a person before an appointment. A Biblical example is Abraham who was tested before God made covenant with him as the father of all nations. (Genesis 22:1). God also tested Israel for 40 years before their entry into the promised land: “Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.” (Deut. 8:2). The intention was not to lead them to sin but to prove their commitment to God and to empower them to resist future temptations in their religious journey. The first parents failed in their test and later tests were for people selected to recompense that failure.

(2) He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.

Forty days and forty nights
Forty is a time of preparation and spiritual strengthening. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai with God as a part of his training from God. (Exodus 24:18). During the same period Israel was tempted to fall into idolatry and they made a golden calf and sinned. (Exodus 32:1-6). Israel spent 40 years in the desert for cleansing from their sins before entering the promised land. They were also tempted in the desert. (Deut. 8:2). Jesus was spiritually strengthened during his 40 days of prayer with fasting and resultant physical weakness. Satan could not fail him in the test allowed by God. The Great Lent is our preparation for the celebration of Easter and is our spiritual rejuvenation every year.

Afterwards he was hungry
Was Jesus felt hungry during his fasting or only after his fasting? Jesus was so immersed in his union with God the Father that he did not feel the hunger. When we are too much involved in an exciting or painful experience, we might forget about eating. However, after the fasting was over, the hunger and the temptation to perform miracle to feed himself was severe.

(3) The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

If you are the Son of God
Both Jesus and Satan knew that Jesus was Son of God. That was publicly revealed at the time of Baptism of Jesus. However, Satan challenged Jesus to use his Messianic power for his self-interest. Jesus did miracles to reveal the glory of God or to help those in need and not to serve his personal necessities. Satan’s statement implied that, “You are not the Son of God if you are not able to do this miracle for yourself.” Satan used tricky statement as he did with Eve.

Command
Satan knew that Jesus was the Word became flesh. Word of God is powerful and was used at the time of creation. So, with the command of Jesus, miracles could happen. Jesus had to control his hunger for food though he had the power of his word at hand.

Command that these stones become loaves of bread
The rocks in the Judean desert were shaped like loaves of baked bread. After a severe fasting for 40 days, Jesus would feel like making use of his divine power to transform the stones to bread. Jesus had avoided such temptations to misuse his power for himself during his life on earth. However, Jesus used his power to perform miracles to serve the sick, the hungry, and the suffering.

God gives us more resources than what we need along with abilities and opportunities to serve others. We might also face the temptation to become selfish than to share our resources, time and talents for others. Those are the sins of omission.

(4) He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus quoted here from Deuteronomy 8:3. When Israel was tested with lack of food, they had to rely on God who gave them manna from heaven. They had this unknown food that God provided. By denying the offer of Satan, Jesus relied on his Father for the provision of his food like the Israelites. In fact, at the end of temptation, God provided him food by the angels. When we keep the Word of God, God provides the bread and whatever you need. We must acknowledge that the goods of life we enjoy are gifts of God.

Though Jesus multiplied food twice during his public ministry, they were done when there was a real need. After the miraculous multiplication of food, people wanted to make Jesus their king so that they don’t have to work for food like the Israelites in the desert. But, Jesus declined that offer to become earthly king. (John 6:15). Jesus fed the people abundantly with the Word of God that could lead them to eternal life.

(5) Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,

The holy city
"The holy city" is unique phrase of Matthew and designates Jerusalem.

The parapet of the temple
The temple was built at a levelled plateau on Mount Zion. At the southeastern corner of the Temple where the Solomon’s Porch and Royal Portico met was the parapet or pinnacle that overlooked the Kidron Valley. The height of the pinnacle down to the Kidron Valley was 450 feet. At this parapet, a priest used to stand every morning and sound the trumpet to announce the time of dawn for morning sacrifice. The Biblical significance of Jesus appearing there and amazing people was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. By jumping off the pinnacle of the temple without harm, according to Satan, could be an easy way to convince the people of the Messiahship of Jesus.

(6) and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

The devil quoted Psalms 91:11 – 12 from a different context to test Jesus. The Satan who was intelligent presented the scripture for his tactics. According to Satan, if Jesus obeyed the devil, he would be showing that he believed in the scripture, and if he did not, it would be an indication of his distrust in the Word of God. Jesus knew that he was “Son of God.” He did not have to prove that to Satan by an extraordinary show. Jesus knew that wonders are short-lived and could not convince people for a conversion of heart. Many people who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus did not follow him.

(7) Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”

Jesus reminded Satan that he would not fall into the temptation like the Israelites did at Massah in the desert. (Deut. 6:16). Expecting God to protect Jesus if he would fall from the pinnacle of the Temple would be equivalent to testing God. God protects us when we take risk for the Kingdom of God. However, we cannot ask God to protect us for our purposeful mistakes.

(8) Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,

Satan pretended as if he had authority over all the splendid kingdoms of the world. Jesus had referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). There are also other instances where Satan is presented as having power over this world (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; and 1 John 5:19). However, these refer to the sinful opposition of Satan to God in the present age.

(9) and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

Devil tempted Jesus to give up spiritual kingship for the worldly royalty. He wanted Jesus to come in terms with the devil. Though Jesus came to the world, he was not of this world. He will come later to judge and rule the world. Christians are born again in baptism not as citizens of this world but of the eternal kingdom of God. So, we strive not for position, power, and popularity of this world but for faithful service to God and his people.

(10) At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

Jesus refused the third temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:13. Only at this third instance Jesus expelled Satan from his presence. Words of Jesus had divine power and so Satan disappeared. The words of Jesus remind us of the first commandment. Our worship and service are directed only to the one and true God.

(11) Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Ministered to him
The Greek word "minister" is often associated with physical food (cf. Matt. 8:15; 25:44; 27:55; Acts 2:6). This recalls 1 Kings 19:6-7, where God miraculously provided food for Elijah. God's angels had been waiting for the test to be over to minister to the unique Son of God. Once the test was over, God provided all that Satan said he could provide. Victory over the test leads to more glory as in the case of the story of Abraham and Job.

Message:

1. Tests happen to people who are on God’s side. If we succeed, it might come one after another as it happened in the case of Jesus three times. Same way of disaster one after another came in the life of Job. We still need to resist the repeated temptation without fail seeking the grace of God. Once the test is over, God will provide his abundant blessings as he did for Job and Jesus.

2. The Biblical meaning of temptation is “a trial in which man has a free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God.” Satan encouraged Jesus to deviate from the plan of his father by misusing his authority and privileges. Jesus used the Holy Scripture to resist all such temptation. When we are tempted, the solution is to be sought in the Bible.

3. The tempter who took the form of a serpent to tempt Eve, made use of Peter to tempt Jesus to avoid persecution. (Mark 8:33). Satan sometimes can use us to be tempters of others like our friends or family members. We need to be watchful that we do not become representatives of the devil.

4. Tempters can come in the form of any person. Those who love us and whom we love can be our tempters even without they are being conscious of it. So, we must be vigilant in our decisions and should make decisions based on the Holy Scripture, Catholic traditions, and the official teachings of the magisterium of the church.

5. We shall not misuse our body, our resources and our time. They are also to be shared for the good of others based on our love of God.