Lent is a blessed time. The readings for the First Sunday of Lent may seem to have a darker tone in that they highlight the temptations offered by Satan to Jesus. They are presented to us at the start of Lent to give us courage to persevere with God in the face of our own trials.
In Genesis, Satan’s words to Adam and Eve have been heard by many of us in the face of having to make a decision to stay with God or go our own way. Sin with its allurements at times offers the sweetness of the refreshing apple in the garden, at least it appears that way. God however has clearly defined the apple as off limits and not for our good. One interpretation here this Lent is to acknowledge that we all have enticements that come our way that we instinctively know would be detrimental for our well-being, and yet we often reason with ourselves arguing that this time they will not be. We are wrong. It is also the reality that sometimes we are told in the light of faith by God that some things are wrong or off limits and yet we do not instinctively see this to be true. These are moments that are very challenging because it is then that the words of the serpent, “you will not die,” seem most authentic to our ears.
The temptations presented to Jesus were experiences that allowed him to manifest his clear love, dependence and alignment with the Father’s will and that alone. They can be this for us too. Consider the first temptation to change the stones to bread. Some insight into the temptation comes from the words of Jesus in his reply to Satan: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” There are times in our life when that satisfaction that the things of this world give us can begin to deceive us into believing that they are enough to satisfy our hearts. There are times when the pursuit of them can be so great and all-consuming that we lose our sense of a need, desire or hunger for God. Jesus challenges us to not satisfy every hungering of the heart for the things of this world because in the end they leave us starving. Only God can satisfy the deep hungers of the human heart.
The temptation by Satan to have Jesus hurl himself off the parapet of the Temple to prove God’s love and protection for him can also enter our spiritual lives. “If you love me God … you would …” From joys and hopes to sorrows and fears we all have things we present to God asking him to heal or correct or direct. Prayer like this is good and noble and the Father asks us to bring them to him, but in the end the challenge is to somehow in love say to him also, “not my will but thine be done.” The last temptation to bow to Satan to gain the kingdoms of the earth could be seen as any invitation to compromise with evil, even in the slightest. Once his foot is in the door the compromises are just beginning.
Questions for Reflection
1. How have the temptations shown themselves in my life?
2. Where do I need God’s help in my prayer?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.