First Sunday of Lent
All three readings of this first Sunday of Lent are rich in meaning for the believer. As we begin the Lenten Season, the Church invites us to think about the fundamental facts of our religion, and about the relationship between God and the people of the Old Testament, between God and his Son, Jesus Christ, and between God and ourselves. The first reading recalls the great saving events of the Old Testament. God revealed himself as Savior of his people. He brought them out of slavery in Exodus, in order to lead them into the promised land. But before they entered the promised land, they wandered for many years in the desert. There they faced grave temptations, and for the most part they failed God. Despite all that God had done for them, many fell into idolatry and worshipped false gods.
Jesus came as the new Israel, the chosen One of God. And like the chosen people, he was led into the desert and underwent temptations similar to those of the Israelites. The devil tempted Jesus with hunger: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf”. Then, he tempted Jesus with idolatry: Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and the world shall be yours. Lastly, the devil tried to put Jesus to a big test: to have God prove his might by saving his Son from death, in a leap from the parapet of the temple.
The three temptations are typical of the temptations Jesus faced throughout his life, and typical as well of the tests his followers will undergo. In the first and third temptations, the devil addresses Jesus as the Son of God, but tries to make him deviate from the path of filial obedience to the Father. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, that is, to use his power for his own benefit rather than stick to the plan as Messiah outlined for him by the Father. In the third temptation –throw yourself down from the temple- Jesus simply answwered, totally unruffled: You must not put the Lord your God to the test. The second tempation is an attemp to make Jesus give to someone else the allegiance that belongs to God alone. The devil claims that the power and glory are at his disposal; he is a liar, the father of lies, not to be trusted, but many before and after Jesus have fallen into this temptation.
The three replies of Jesus to the three temptations are taken from the Book of Deuteronomy and refer to comands directed by God to Israel during his wandering through the desert. They are commands that Israel failed to heed during that experience. Jesus did heed them, contrary to what Israel had done. Jesus showed that his relationship with his Father was based on loving obedience. That loving obedience led Jesus to die on the Cross. But it was through that death that God exalted him and led him into the promised land, the life of perfect happiness in heaven.
Jesus is, then, the true Israel, the One we can confidently believe that he has been chosen by the Father to move into the true promised land. And we, part of that people of God, move along with him. Wherever he goes, we go. He cannot abandon us because we belong to him. We are the new chosen people of God. He wants to lead us into the true promised land with Jesus, but for a while we must wander in the desert of this world. And here we too undergo temptations. The fact of being tempted does not mean that someone’s spiritual condition is weak or doubtful or prone to sin. In the Bible, it is particularly the pious and righteous man or woman who is put to the test, not to upset or disrupt his relationship with his God, but rather to strengthen and authenticate the living communion between him and his loving God.
Jesus’ victory over the temptation should inspire us to do the same. Yet, we must be realistic. The words of St. Luke are important: Having exhausted all these qays of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time. These “other ways of tempting him” we must confront. But we will not face them alone. The same Spirit which was at work in the life of Jesus, is at work in us!