First Sunday of Lent (A)
Not so long ago, we celebrated the entry of the child Jesus into the world with the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. It was a celebration of God entering our world in human form so that we could experience God in a more tangible way. As Matthew would record it, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Mt 1:23). As we know, the gospels will remain silent on much of Jesus’ growing up years and only to recommence when Jesus re-appears to begin His public ministry with the baptism at the Jordan river. One can say that is the “second entry” of Jesus into the public sphere.
While the first entry was welcomed with angels singing, shepherds rejoicing and wise men from the east paying homage, the “second entry” is going to be met with Jesus being tempted by the devil. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus is led into the desert where He was tempted by the evil one. In some ways, Jesus’ re-entry into the public domain is a contrast of the first entry.
The gospel of Matthew presents the mission of Jesus as making God present, real and tangible to the people of His time as His name would suggest, ‘God with us’. The parting words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew also points to this fact: “I am with you till the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
Seen from this perspective then, the temptation of Jesus would be for Jesus to not fulfil His mission, i.e., to prevent Him from making God real and tangible to the people of His time. In doing so, people would have less reliance on God.
The first temptation is to turn stones to loaves. Jesus had been fasting and Matthew tells us that He was hungry. It would have been so easy for Jesus to give in and that He had the power to perform the miracle. Yet Jesus resists this temptation to give in to physical desires, to immediate gratification.
The second temptation is to throw down Himself from the temple. It is primarily to doubt God, to see if God really will send angels to lift Jesus up. It was an attempt to make Jesus doubt whether the Father does really care and not allow Him to be hurt.
The third temptation is the offer of wealth and power if Jesus would worship the devil. The Old Testament tells us that the Messiah will come in pomp and glory but Jesus will take the way of humility and suffering. The temptation is to make Jesus think that it is power and wealth that can change the world and bring happiness and not otherwise.
All of us are not spared of temptation and we will encounter it till the end of our earthly life. Temptations are a part of life – it is not whether we are spiritual or not, prayerful or not; temptation is a part of life and the temptations of Jesus relate to our own temptations.
We live in a world on instant gratification – we want it here and now. If I don’t get it now, it is not worth the effort, we think. For everything that I give, I need a return – return of investment. But Jesus shows us that there is greater value in sacrifice than self-gratification. Sacrifice bring us to a greater reliance on God.
The second temptation is related to the first. If I don’t get what I want, it is not worth pursuing the matter. Sometimes we give up on God and even doubt if He actually cares when things don’t go our way. People even say is it worth believing in God when there is so much of pain and suffering in the world?
The final temptation is the false notion that money and material possession brings happiness and therefore we begin this journey of hoarding worldly treasures. As the gospel of Matthew reminds us, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mt 16:26).
The three temptations bring us to the spirit of Lent, fasting (sacrifice), prayer (trust) and almsgiving (sharing). May this Lent be a time of making sacrifice, renewing our trust in God, and sharing from our abundance with those in need.
Image: “Temptations of Christ” by Sandro Botticelli
Location: Sistine Chapel, Vatican City (Rome)