The Gospel of the temptations of Jesus in the desert should be looked at alongside of the Old Testament accounts of the Israelites in the Desert. Moses led the Israelites for forty years in the desert as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. During this time there were periods when they grumbled and complained about food and water, with being in the desert, and they struggled with various temptations and gave into some. Most notably that of making and worshiping a golden calf. It took forty years, but in the end they were ready to enter the Promised Land. In the Gospel Jesus had just been baptized by John during which there were the beautiful affirmation by the Father identifying Jesus as his “Beloved Son.” Jesus is preparing to lead us on a journey to the new Jerusalem.
The contrast between the two situations is that as the Israelites journeyed through the desert to the Promised Land and ultimately to the establishment of their Holy City, Jerusalem, they gave into various temptations and sinned. Whereas, Jesus remained faithful and focused on His Mission as Messiah and Savior to lead us to the New Promised Land, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
We are all on the journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem. We are fortunate that Jesus, is our leader who was faithful to the will of the father and was ultimately victorious over sin and death. The good news is that His victory is our victory, all we have to do is faithfully follow him. This is where we stumble for like the Israelites we grumble, stumble, and fall into sin. The forty days of Lent that we observe each year are a reminder to us of the 40 years of the Israelites wandering the desert, and the 40 days of Jesus fasting and praying before beginning his public ministry. The three temptations that Jesus encountered are a good representation of the types of temptations that we all face in one way or another.
Jesus was tempted to change a stone into bread in order to satisfy his hunger, and we are tempted time and time again to avoid any kind of discomfort or sacrifice that we might be called to do as we follow the Lord. To be a follower of Jesus includes taking up the cross to follow him, and we tend to want to avoid crosses. Jesus’ response to this temptation is a lesson for us that we are called to embrace the crosses of various hungers that we might face in order to be faithful to Jesus.
The second temptation was to have power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world by kneeling down and worshipping Satan. Little did Satan know that Jesus has far more power than that, and that at his name, “every knee shall bow and head shall proclaim,” that he is Lord. We face the temptation to worship false gods who seem to promise us power. It could be the god of materialism, or the god of power in relationships, work, or social situations. Jesus calls on us remind ourselves that there is only one God, and to be faithful to him, and not to give into the false gods that surround us.
We begin Lent with this Gospel that we can all identify with because of our own struggle with temptation. It’s a Gospel that leads us through this season with the reminder to resist temptation, and to heed well the words we heard on Wednesday; “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Father Killian Loch O.S.B.
Image: The Temptations of Christ, 12th-century mosaic at St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.