The preferential and unconditional love and obedience to God
The gospel reading deals with the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. The temptations of Jesus were surely part of his redeeming action for the world; but it was also his self-gift as a role model for us to follow in similar circumstances of our everyday life which is often beset with evils of suffering, testing and temptations. The three temptations together cover human life in all its major dimensions – economic, social and religious. Jesus, whom God the Father had declared at his baptism in the river Jordan, “ This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3: 17), by encountering the comprehensive testing at the hands of the devil proved to the world that he was indeed the “Son of God”. God will not put us to testing or allow evils of any kind befall us beyond our capacity, if only we turn to him in humble prayer and supplication. The first reading therefore reminds us how God came down with a mighty hand to save his people from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors, the moment they turned to him in their distress. Jesus repeats the experience of Israel in the desert and he emerges victorious over evil, until another “opportune time”. Being in possession of the Spirit of God, and his mastery of the Word, lead him to a triple victory: victory over his own bodily needs, victory over the thirst for power, and the victory of his own awareness that he was the Son of God.
The first temptationundergone by Jesus related to his need for food. After fasting for forty days, he felt hungry and was tempted to use his divine power to satisfy his hunger. It would have been enough to tell the stones to become bread. But he chose to put up with his hunger and refused to satisfy it miraculously. He knew that he owed his life to God, his Father, and that the Father would take care of it. He preferred to trust God than to trust in his own powers. His need for God was greater than his need for food. If we want to have God as our Father, we will need to learn from Jesus, the Son of God, to put ourselves into God’s hands and wait for him to satisfy our needs.
The second temptationexperienced by Jesus is even more relevant and more dangerous. He was offered power over the world, if he denied his God and Father. Jesus refused absolutely: only God is deserving of exclusive service. Filial obedience is due only to the Father. Nothing is to be preferred to God, not even power so great that it would make him like God. Being able to rely on God, as Father is to enjoy the power of God. Anyone who overcomes, as Jesus did, the temptation to exercise power over others, does not render himself weak. Instead, he allows God to be his God more readily, and he becomes more securely his son. Knowing that we are servants of God frees us from serving other gods. We know ourselves: nobody is free more than the one who has only one Master to serve. Having God as our God makes us sons of one Father. How much more freedom we would enjoy, if we lived to serve God alone! Instead of living peacefully with God as our Father and only Master, we destroy ourselves by worrying about how important we are, or what we are able to do, constantly comparing ourselves with others. By not choosing to serve God alone, we lose the chance of having his almighty power at our disposal. By choosing other fathers, we deny God the possibility of being our only Father.
The third temptationJesus had to overcome was the most subtle and the most serious. He knew with certainty that he was the Son of God, and he felt that he could rely with certainty on his Father’s protection. What use is a Father that cannot save his Son? A God who did not help his own children would be of little benefit. The trust that Jesus had in his Father could lead him to temerity. It would be wrong for the Son to risk his life, just because he knew that God would protect him. It is wrong to put the Father to the test, just to prove that one is a son. The Father of Jesus wants to be our Master always, in time of need and in time of plenty, in sorrow and in joy, in small things and in big things.
In the Bible the desert or wilderness is a place of encounter with God or evil spirits. Jesus during his stay of forty days in the desert also had this twofold experience. As followers of Christ we also need to have such desert-experiences, in which we are tested and tempted. We also need to remind ourselves that God be always present in such experiences. Another important point to keep in mind is that as long as we are in this world, temptation and tempter never leave us for good. And so the Evangelist makes the telling remark, “When the devil finished testing Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.” (4: 13, emphasis added). By doing so Luke was hinting at Jesus’ final temptation also in Jerusalem, when he would be hanging on the cross, facing three similar temptations at the hands of (1) the Jewish leaders, (2) the soldiers and (3) the criminal on the cross at his left ( cf. 23: 35-39).
As Jesus came victorious through these temptations, he stands as a brilliant example for all those who will have to wrestle with evil and suffering in the world. Lent is a time to face squarely temptations of different kinds by embracing afresh the Holy Spirit, given to us at baptism, when we were born into God’s family, the Church. As the same Spirit accompanied Jesus during his desert-experience, may he also accompany us into this Lenten season, which is in fact observed in remembrance of Jesus’ desert fasting. Once again Lent has begun for us; let us examine how the gospel message of today will help us to choose a pathway fitting for Jesus’ disciples, and how we will make the message of “fasting, penance and almsgiving” most fruitful in our everyday life.