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Lent First Sunday

Season of Lent

First Sunday: Matthew 4:1-11
JESUS OVERCOMES TEMPTATION THROUGH FASTING

INTRODUCTION

Lent is a period of renewal and preparation for the great feast of Easter. Our special Lenten exercises like imposition of ashes, stations of the cross, fasting, abstinence, and philanthropy will help us purify so we also rise with Jesus to eternal life. Jesus revised the laws of the old, saying that the love of God and the service of neighbor should come from our heart. Jesus used to fast as part of his communion with the Father and to overcome temptation. He used Holy Scripture for his defense against the evil. His ways are models for our spiritual renewal.

BIBLE TEXT

(Matthew 4:1) Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (2) After spending forty days and forty nights without food, he was hungry. (3) Then the devil came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, order these stones to turn into bread.” (4) But Jesus answered, “Scripture says: Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that God speaks.” (5) Then the devil took him to the holy city, set him on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, (6) ”If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for Scripture says, God will command his angels to guard you. They will carry you lest you hurt your foot against a stone.” (7) Jesus answered, “But Scripture also says: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (8) Then the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the nations of the world in all their greatness and splendor. And he said, (9) “All this I will give you, if you kneel and worship me.” (10) Then Jesus answered, “Be off, Satan! Scripture says: Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” (11) Then the devil left him, and the angels came to serve him.

Difference in the Great Lent Observance

According to the Latin Rite, the Great Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and the Easter. Since Sundays are the remembrance of Our Lord’s resurrection, they are exempt from Lenten observance. When we exclude 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. They observe the Lent continuously for 40 days as Jesus fasted in the wilderness. This ends on the 40th Friday. On the following days they observance Our Lord’s passion and his glorious resurrection. Thus the 50 days Lent starts with the feast of Petratha (The Eve of Great Fast) and ends with Easter. So, instead of Ash Wednesday of the Latin Rite, the Eastern churches have imposition of ashes on Monday after Petratha.

INTERPRETATION

(Matthew 4:1) Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

The Spirit led Jesus.
Jesus received the Spirit of God at the time of his baptism at River Jordan. After this glorious event, the Spirit led Jesus to test according to God’s plan. His test happened 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 overseeing the idolatrous worship of his people. For Jesus, it was his physical and mental challenge to face his severe hunger.

Into the desert
People considered desert as an ideal place for fasting, prayer, and to be in communion with God. It favored 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 the ideal place for communion with God. Jesus also selected desert for his spiritual nourishment to prepare 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 aim of Satan is to lead us to sin against God. When God allows a test for a person, the devil will take over as with 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 manipulate the Word of God, to make us sin against God 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, whom God tested before He made a 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: “Keep in mind the long road along which the LORD, your God, brought you through the desert these forty years. He humbled you, to test you and know what was in your heart, whether you would 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 challenges in their faith journey. Jesus succeeded and compensated for the failure of the first parents.

(2) After spending forty days and forty nights without food, he was hungry.

Forty days and forty nights
According to the Biblical numerology, 40 stands for preparation, purification, spiritual strengthening, and test. Examples of forty in the Bible are: 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 had the temptation 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. Israel faced temptation also in the desert (Deut. 8:2).

Jesus gained spiritual strength during his 40 days of prayer with fasting, though he became physically weak afterwards. Satan could not fail him in the test that God allowed. The Great Lent is our preparation for Easter celebration and is our spiritual rejuvenation every year.

Afterwards he was hungry
Did Jesus feel hunger during 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 distressing experience, we might forget to eat. However, after fasting, his hunger was so intense he had a severe temptation to perform a miracle to feed himself. His preparation helped him to overcome the temptations. Preparations help us succeed in our spiritual and worldly tests.

(3) Then the devil came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, order these stones to turn into bread.”

Why three tests?
Number three has great significance in the Bible. Three stands for emphasis (Holy, Holy, Holy means, the superlative Most Holy) or completeness. The Bible uses number three 467 times. It is the first of the four numbers that stand for spiritual perfection (3, 7, 10 and 12). Examples of number three in the Bible are: Trinity, three righteous patriarchs before the deluge (Abel, Enoch, and Noah), three righteous “fathers” after the deluge (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), 27 books of the New Testament (3x3x3), Jesus taking only three disciples (Peter, James, and John) to three special places (the Mount of Transfiguration, rising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Garden of Gethsemane), Jesus asking Peter three times to express his love to him before making him head of the church, Jesus spending three years for his public ministry, 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, and Jesus rising from the dead on the third day.

Jesus overcame three tests, shows his perfect control over the evil. He quoted three verses from the Book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13, 16) to resist his temptations.

If you are the Son of God
Both Jesus and Satan knew that Jesus is the Son of God. God revealed that during his Baptism. 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 never 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 is smart in manipulating the Word of God to tempt humans as he did with Eve and Jesus.

Command
God’s command using the Word made the universe in six days. Satan knew that Jesus was the Word of God that took human flesh. His words are powerful to perform miracles. Jesus had to control his miraculous power to avoid misusing it for appeasing his hunger.

Order these stones to turn into bread.
The rocks in the Judean desert resembled loaves of baked bread. After a severe fasting for 40 days, Jesus craved to use his divine power to transform the stones to bread. Jesus avoided such temptations to misuse his power for himself during his life on earth. However, he used it to serve the sick, the hungry, and the sinners.

God gives us more resources than what we need, along with the 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) But Jesus answered, “Scripture says: Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that God speaks.”

 Jesus quoted here from Deuteronomy 8:3. When Israel faced a test with lack of food in the desert, God gave them manna from heaven. By denying the offer of Satan, Jesus relied on his Father for his food like the Israelites. At the end of temptation, God provided him food through the angels. When we keep the Word of God, God supplies the bread and whatever we need. We should acknowledge that the goods of life we enjoy are from God.

Though Jesus multiplied food twice during his public ministry, he did them when there was a genuine need. After the miraculous multiplication of food, the people wanted to make Jesus their king. They thought if Jesus would become their king, he would feed them like God fed their ancestors with manna in the desert for 40 years. Then, they do not have to work for food. But Jesus declined that offer to become an earthly king (John 6:15). Instead, he fed the people with the Word of God and established the Holy Eucharist for their spiritual nourishment and eternal life.

(5) Then the devil took him to the holy city, set him on the highest point of the temple, and said to him.

Holy City
“The holy city” is a unique phrase of Matthew that signifies Jerusalem.

Parapet of the temple
The Temple was at a leveled plateau on Mount Zion from Solomon’s time. The parapet or pinnacle that overlooked the Kidron Valley was at the southeastern corner of the Temple where the Solomon’s Porch and Royal Portico met. The height of the pinnacle down to the Kidron Valley was 450 feet. At this parapet, a priest stood 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) “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for Scripture says, God will command his angels to guard you. They will carry you lest you hurt your foot against a stone.”

The devil quoted Psalms 91:11–12 from a different context to test Jesus. The Satan who is supersmart cited the scripture for his tactics. According to Satan, if Jesus obeyed the devil, he would show that he believed in the scripture, and if he did not, it would show his distrust in the Word of God. Jesus knew that he is “Son of God.” He did not have to prove that to Satan by an amazing show. Jesus knew that the wonders are short-lived and could not convince people for their conversion. Many people who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles did not follow him.

(7) Jesus answered, “But Scripture also says: 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 to a very high mountain and showed him all the nations of the world in all their greatness and splendor. And he said, …

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 cases where the Bible presents Satan 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) “All this I will give you, if you kneel 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 to inherit the Kingdom of God.

10) Then Jesus answered, “Be off, Satan! Scripture says: Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”

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

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

Ministered to him.
The Greek word “minister” has association with physical food (Matt. 8:15; 25:44; 27:55; Acts 2:6). This recalls 1 Kings 19:6-7, where God supplied food for Elijah. God’s angels had been waiting for the test to be over to minister to the Son of God. Once the test was over, God gave all that Satan said he could provide. Victory over the test leads to more glory as with the stories of Abraham and Job
 

MESSAGE

1. God would test us in the world to prove our fidelity to Him and to empower us spiritually. If we succeed, it might come one after another as it happened with Jesus three times. Disasters came one after another in Job’s life. We still need to resist the repeated temptations without fail, seeking the grace of God. Once the test is over, God will give us 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.” (https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion). Satan encouraged Jesus to deviate from his Father’s plan by misusing his authority. Jesus used the Holy Scripture to resist all such temptations. When we face temptations, we should look for a solution 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 uses us to tempt others like our friends or family members. We need to be watchful that we do not become agents of the devil.

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

5. We shall not misuse our body, our resources, and our time. We should share them for the good of others based on our love of God.