“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf. But Jesus answered, Scripture says: ‘Man does not live on bread alone” (Luke 4: 3-4).
We are already in the fifth day of Lent. This season of forty days that offers us the unique privilege of withdrawing into the “desert” in order to assess our relationship with God, with our neighbours and with ourselves through prayerful reflection, self-mortification and charitable acts towards the needy. The forty days of Lent reminds us of two important events in Christian history, namely, the forty years’ journey of deliverance of the Israelites from the land of Egypt (land bondage and slavery), to the promised land (land of freedom); and the forty days fasting of Jesus in the desert. These two events are very much connected and linked to our lives as Christians and intrinsically related to this season of Lent. For, like in those two events, we have the number “forty” to do something, to embark on a spiritual journey. The years through the desert were of historic journey of deliverance for the Jews. Jesus, having become man, took upon Himself our sins, and had to spend His forty days in intensive prayers and fasting in order to be ready to deliver humanity from bondage and slavery to sin and death. On our part, we are offered these forty days now, in order to be able to overcome our sins and weaknesses, that have enslaved us. Thirdly, the forty years in the desert was a period of testing the faith of the Israelites in the God of their fathers. Similarly, the forty days of Jesus in the desert was a time of temptation, as St. Luke narrates: “Jesus … was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4: 2). Our forty days will certainly not be different. This is why the Church always presents us with the story of the Temptation of Jesus on every First Sunday of Lent, so that we know that when we set out on a journey of personal salvation, the devil will come whispering; also, and most importantly, we can learn from the strategies of Jesus. And be armed with the weapons to overcome the enemy, when he comes with his temptations.
St. Luke narrates the three temptations of Jesus a bit differently from Matthew. While Matthew’s narrative gives the impression that the devil only started tempting Jesus after the fasting, and when He was hungry, Luke clearly leads us to understand that the temptation was an ongoing thing throughout the entire time. Secondly, both Matthew and Luke agree on the first temptation, but the second and the third are altered: the second of Matthew is the third for Luke, and Matthew’s third is second in Luke. Whereas this has nothing to do with the authenticity of any of these narratives, Luke’s arrangement is very insightful, as it parallels the three reasons for the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 1ff). The Genesis narratives says: “The fruit was good for food (food) and pleasing to the eye (eye), and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (power) (Genesis 3: 6). These point to what theologians call the “Triple Concupiscence” or the “Triple Lust” – the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and lust for power. The devil first asks Jesus to turn the stone into a loaf (food), then shows Jesus the kingdom of the world (eye) and finally asks Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple unhurt (power). So invariably, Luke is proving the fact that what the devil conquered and took away from the old Adam, Jesus, the New Adam, has now conquered in the devil and restored it to us.
“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf”: No one would go forty days and nights without food and not be hungry. Jesus was definitely hungry in the course of His fasting. So food became a need for Jesus. The devil will always use the things we need, the things we want, the things we love, the things we have a flair for, things that we could easily fall for to tempt us. Jesus overcomes the devil by pointing to a greater or higher need. There is always something greater than our immediate needs; something higher than the now. Truly, “Man does not live on bread alone.” Let us not be ruled by our stomachs and other comforts.
“The devil showed Him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to Him, ‘I will give You all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose”: The eye has a natural soft spot for beauty, glamour and possession. The sight of the “kingdoms of the world” and the proposed ownership could cause any man to fall. But notice what the devil says to Jesus: “I will give You all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose.” No one truly gives what is not his own. Does the devil own the world? In John 12: 31 and 14: 30, Jesus describes the devil as “the prince of this world.” By the fall of Adam to the temptation of Satan in Eden, Satan gained authority over the world and its allurements, but not without God’s supremacy (notice the phrase “… for it has been committed (some texts use the word “delivered” or “given”) to me …”). Worldly attractions are easily misleading as its comforts often give a sense of false security that takes one’s attention from God. Be that as it may, they are good in themselves and are to be used in aid of worshipping and acknowledging God as the Sovereign Being, who alone created all things and who alone deserves our service and worship as Jesus rightly answered the devil: “You must worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.”
“Then the devil led Him to Jerusalem and made Him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If You are the Son of God’ he said to Him ‘throw Yourself down from here, for Scripture says: He will put His angels in charge of You, to guard You, and again: They will hold you up in their hands in case You hurt your foot against a stone’”: This temptation awakens the innate desire in man for pride, to show off, to tinkle the desire for power, popularity and firm. We all want to be the centre of attention, the cynosure of all eyes in the public. The “New Moses” must do something extraordinary to gain followership and command the obedience of the crowd that could be compared to the crowd the “Old Moses” led through the desert. But the was not the way of Jesus, His way was the Cross, the very purpose the devil was tempting Him from achieving. And so Jesus answered “It has been said: ‘You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The following are worth noting in the application of these encounters of Jesus with the Ancient Serpent:
- The temptation was not a one-off experience. The devil must have tempted Jesus the whole time through. So the devil comes whispering to us the whole time through.
- The devil tempted Jesus based on the needs and the weaknesses of man. So the devil today tempts us from our points of needs and weaknesses.
- The role of Scripture in the entire temptation narrative is very critical – the devil used the Word of the Scripture to substantiate his persuasions. So quoting the Scripture does not always point to holiness or Godliness.
- Jesus countered each of the devil’s temptations with the Word of the Scripture. We need to be armed with The Word in order to conquer this common enemy. Reading a Chapter of the Bible each day, especially during this season of Lent could be very helpful.
The aim of the devil in every temptation is always to sabotage our efforts to be close to God and to respond positively to His call. Just as he lured Adam to disobey God and sever that bond, so he continues to lure us even now. During this Season of Lent, the Church offers us the true remedies: for the desires of the flesh, we are to fast; for the desire for possession, we are to give alms; and for the inclination to pride, we are to pray. May this season be a season of God’s amazing grace on us all. Amen.