1ST SUNDAY OF LENT: GOD’S GRACE KEEPS YOU AT THE TOP
The book of Deuteronomy set the tone for the scene of the temptation in the gospel as Moses reminds the people of their commitment to the Lord, “And having set them before the Lord your God, you shall bow down in his presence.” As soon as Jesus steps out of the Jordan after his baptism, the devil appears with attractive offers. The devil wants Jesus to bow down and worship him. Jesus emerges from his desert experience filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus faces temptation as a human being.
First, Jesus is hungry. Second, as a man, he should love fame and honor. Third, he should appreciate being powerful, especially as the messiah who has come to save the oppressed people of Israel. He would need to be powerful to overthrow the Roman authority. These are the packages that the devil latches on to lure him away from his ministry. The devil can be smart. At the end of that encounter is something interesting still; “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Lk. 4:23). Do not expect that temptations and trials will be over at some point. Satan never stops working. But God’s grace keeps you at the top of your spiritual game. You must be filled with the Holy Spirit, which means, you should remain spiritually alert and connected with God in Christ through prayer and fasting.
When the devil says to Jesus, you are hungry, and you are the Son of God, what must be going on in the devil’s mind? He knows that Jesus has mystical powers to turn stones into loaves which will make him succumb. He comes up with a Plan B. Satan knows that leaders love fame. The devil knows that spiritual and political leaders love to wield powers. Since the bread trick does not work, how about asking him to perform magic? He says to Jesus, “I shall give you all this power and glory if you worship me.” What a disappointment when Jesus reminds him of God’s supremacy, “Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, Him alone shall you serve.”
Here’s how the devil operates. If you don’t fall physically, then he uses spiritual tricks. The devil takes Jesus to a high cliff disguising himself as a preacher. He too knows the Bible and can cite the Psalms, “He will command his angels concerning you, and with their hands, they will support you lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus radically rebukes the devil. You must rebuke the devil before he gets into you. You must shun him out of your life before it gets late. Make it clear that you are not afraid of the Cross, that you are willing to suffer with Jesus. Let the devil know that God reigns in your life.
The temptations of Jesus remind us that as followers of Christ, we are not immune from temptation. As long as we are in the world, we are constantly attacked by evil. Right from the time of Adam and Eve, temptation became part of the history of humanity. We carry in our bodies, human weakness, and brokenness. Adam and Eve fell. They succumbed to temptation. They lost their friendship with God. Jesus came, experienced temptation, stood firm, and restored human innocence through his cross and resurrection. Jesus faced temptation as a human. But his love for God was key to his victory over temptation. For that reason, Saint Paul urges us, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11). On the contrary, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
Peter presents us with the significance of calling on the name of the Lord from his experience walking on the water. The Bible narrates, “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord save me!” (Matt. 14:30). The wind of temptation can be too strong. The wind of pornography. The wind of visiting a particular website, of viewing a particularly bad image, the wind of drinking excessively, the wind of doing drugs. All these can be strong. When you think you are losing, speak out, “Lord, save me!” It works!
We pray in the Lord’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The Lord will deliver us from evil but won’t put us away from it. The devil goes away only “for a time.” But God’s grace stays with those who trust in Him. The truth is that temptation targets our weaknesses, not our strengths. It aims at our desires. It offers seductive alternatives to true love for God. Temptations cash in on our cravings and on our appetites. Your desire for food, the quest for power, ambition for fame, demand for self-glory, the gratification of the bodily desires. Temptations pull you towards satisfying your sensual appetite, so it presents you with what seems appealing.
What is the devil asking of you? It is to “throw yourself down.” And he backs it up with a fake promise like “It doesn’t matter. Nothing will happen to you. It is normal. Everyone is doing it. God knows your weakness.” This is why he says to Jesus, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you.” Of course, God has given His angels charge over you, but it’s not for the devil to remind you of that. Hey, you must be ready to distinguish the voice of God when the devil plays those tricks. God will never ask you to do evil and won’t placate evil with any good promise. See how the serpent deceives Eve, “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5)
Truly, the devil knows that a holy, spiritual life is key to staying at the top and that does not work in his favor. The devil wants you, but each time you resist him, you stay up with God who is always at the top. The devil only wants you to throw yourself down from that pinnacle of holiness. He employs every strategy to achieve that objective. Are you aware that God’s grace keeps you at the top?
Powers, fame, earthly glories, and riches do not keep you at the top. Grace and mercy keep you at the top. Do not throw yourself down. Remember this, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Lk. 4:8). Go to the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel and adore the Lord. Keep adoring Jesus during Lent and beyond. Do some fasting and tell your body that “man does not live by bread alone.” Abstain from certain cravings that help you resist the demands of your flesh. Set some goals for yourself and keep track of how you’re doing. Pray to the Holy Spirit to fill you with the light of God’s strength as He did for Jesus. And like Peter, remember to shout for help. Go to confession and tell Jesus, “Lord, save me!” God wins always!
Readings: 1st- Deut. 26:4-10; 2nd- Rom. 10:8=13; Gospel- Lk. 4:1-13