Sunday, March 1, 2020 • 1st Sunday of Lent
Liturgical Color: Violet
First reading: Genesis 2:7–9; 3:1–7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 17
Second reading: Romans 5:12–19
Gospel: Matthew 4:1–11
Once again this week, I will concentrate on the Gospel reading, which relates our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert, followed by the arrival of Satan and his temptations. We recognize that this victory over the devil’s wiles was necessary because of the failure of Adam and Eve to conquer Satan by rejecting his temptation in the Garden of Eden (as narrated by the First Reading and acknowledged by the Psalm). The Second Reading discusses the theology of the Fall and the Redemption, reminding us that, although “sin is not counted where there is no law,” nevertheless, death — the penalty of sin — was already in place from the moment of the first human sin. Only Jesus, the Son of God, could overcome death. So here we meet the first thing Jesus did to free us.
Jesus, our Saviour, allowed himself to be tempted because he so chose; and he did so out of love for us and to instruct us. However, since he was perfect, he could only be tempted externally. Catholic teaching tells us that there are three levels of temptation: 1) suggestion, that is, external temptation, which we can undergo without committing any sin; 2) temptation, in which we take a certain delight, whether prolonged or not, even though we do not give clear consent; this level of temptation has now become internal and there is some sinfulness in it; 3) temptation to which we consent; this is always sinful, and, since it affects the deepest part of the soul, it is definitely internal. By allowing himself to be tempted, Jesus wanted to teach us how to fight and conquer our temptations. We will do this by having trust in God and prayer, with the help of God’s grace and by having fortitude.
Jesus’ temptations in the desert have a deep significance in salvation history. All the most important people throughout sacred history were tempted — Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, and the chosen people themselves. Similarly with Jesus. By rejecting the temptations of the devil, our Lord atones for the falls of those who went before him and those who come after him. He is an example for us in all the temptations we were subsequently to have, and also for the battles between the Church and the power of the devil. Later Jesus teaches us in the Our Father to ask God to help us with his grace not to fall at the time of temptation. – Navarre Bible Commentary
If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.
The Word of God, in whose power all things had been created, is tempted to use that power selfishly and magically — for the satisfaction of the Accuser. He is tempted to operate and work separately from his Father and for merely personal motives — the precise thing he tells us in St. John’s Gospel he cannot and will not do. In the beginning, God created all things out of nothing in an act that is an outpouring of his Being: he called all things into being in order to share with them his eternal goodness and beauty. This act is worthy of God, who does nothing selfishly. Here the Tempter tries to lure Jesus, God’s incarnate Wisdom, to be unfaithful to his own truth by becoming dependent on a creature. The Word, because he has become humanly weak out of love, is tempted to forget his mission and use his Father’s power as would a magician rather than a savior! Through the power of the Word, Satan wants to give shape to a new creation in his own image and likeness — which is selfishness and greed. Note that our phrase here (“Say that… they may become”) is an echo of the phrases that punctuate the creation narrative in Genesis: “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ ” So Satan is trying, through Jesus, to manipulate the divine power for his purposes as would Simon Magus later on through Peter. The Tempter operates consistent with his role as negator by attempting to persuade God to deny his own being. But the Word, in whom the austere stones had been created, likes them as they are, likes himself as he is, and leaves his creation undisturbed, much to the Devil’s consternation. – Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, vol. 1
This is Satan’s subtle way of attempting to make the all-powerful God a slave of his own creation, allowing the Evil One to take over God’s position as the Supreme Being. Jesus’ rebuttal thwarts that attempt by quoting the divinely instituted Law of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” This puts his own dependency back where it belongs: on the will of his Father. So long as he receives his nourishment directly from the Father, Jesus is not hungry; it is only “afterwards,” when he returns his eyes to the panorama of Creation, which he is to redeem, that he becomes aware of his hunger after forty days of fasting in the desert.
It is true that, as God incarnate, Jesus could work the miracle demanded by the devil. But “miracles in the Bible are extraordinary and wonderful deeds done by God to make his words or actions understood. They do not occur as isolated outpourings of God’s power but rather as part of the work of Redemption. What the devil proposes in this temptation would be for Jesus’ benefit only and therefore could not form part of the plan for Redemption.” (Navarre Bible Commentary)
By the way he deals with the temptation, Jesus teaches us that when we ask God for things we should not ask in the first place for what we can obtain by our own efforts. Neither should we ask for what is exclusively for our own convenience, but rather for what will help towards our holiness or that of others. – Navarre Bible Commentary
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the pinnacle of the Temple]. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
The devil can quote Scripture, too, if he sees that it serves his purpose. “He deals in perpetual adaptation, surface movement, quick change of strategy, the production of new thrills and false options and, most insidious of all, bogus piety. He instantly concludes that, if the incarnate Word of God quotes the biblical Word of God to him (v. 4), he will try to divide these two and show them to be inconsistent.” (Fire of Mercy, vol. 1)
Again the taunting refrain is repeated: ‘If you are Son of God (and you are, aren’t you?).…’ That is the essence of all these temptations: the Accuser a priori admits a real condition of divine sonship as existing in Jesus. Why, then, does he prefix his enticement with an if in the first place? It amounts to ‘Show me!’ If Jesus decides to “show him”, he is already lost. For, if he tries and succeeds in answering the taunt, he will have usurped God’s powers by using them privately as a human being, as a magician who becomes a gaudy exhibitionist with God’s things. If he tries and fails, then the defeat is all the more blatant and Jesus’ “piety” a sham. In either case, the Accuser could then, precisely accuse him of being a charlatan before both God and the chosen people, which is what he had attempted to do with Job and still attempts to do with every faithful Christian. – Fire of Mercy, vol. 1
Jesus responds with another quote from Deuteronomy, this one manifesting the error in Satan’s interpretation of the Psalm he has quoted. Scripture does not contradict Scripture, but instead shows how creatures can misinterpret it.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Satan has twice tried and failed. Now he plays his trump card, his only recourse at this point. He drops all subtlety and manifests his true purpose: to make God, even in human form, subservient to himself.
Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Jesus has the power to command the Evil One, whom he himself had created good, to leave. The devil has no recourse; he must obey. Angels then minister to the Lord, showing that other spirits willingly obey him, making Satan’s resistance futile.