Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
Jesus returned from the Jordan . . . to be tempted by the devil (Lk 4:1-2)
Does the opening line of the Gospel today, “Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry” (Lk 4:1-2), shock you? Specifically, Jesus was tempted by the devil? The Son of God faced temptation? A careful reflection will help us understand the profound mystery of his incarnation: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15) Truly, we need to pay attention to the Gospel of Luke today so “we may grow in understanding the riches in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” (Collect for Mass on First Sunday of Lent of Roman Missal)
The Gospel mentions Jesus’ return from the Jordan, and thus we recall at the Baptism of the Lord, a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22). Obedience to the Father is a characteristic of true sonship. Jesus was tempted by the devil to rebel against God three times! Through the first sacrament of Christian Initiation, Baptism, you and I are adopted by God as sons and daughters. In our lives, we are called to find delight in sustaining and deepening our filial devotion to God. So, just as Jesus was tempted to rebel against the Lord, and thus not be faithful to the divine sonship, so all of us are tempted in our lives to neglect or abandon our vocation as adopted sons and daughters. Let us examine the trifold temptation of the Lord and his response to see the “riches in Christ”
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Lk 4:3). The first temptation represents material things. The devil always tricks us to think that in this life, happiness and satisfaction are in material things, but we human beings are more than the flesh, we are created in the image and likeness of God. God breathed his spirit into us at creation. So, the satisfaction of the longing in our heart is in our relationship with the God. In other words, our happiness, ultimately, is in our filial devotion to God. No wonder Jesus responded by quoting Moses as he spoke to the Israelites: “[God] therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, in order to feed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt 8:3).
“I shall give to you all this power and glory” (Lk 4:6). The second temptation is the craving for power and glory of this world. The human heart, unless being trained in the humility of Christ, would seek for endless power and domination over the lives of others. We live in a world that is threatened with wars and conflicts. These are the fruits of those who fall into the temptation of the devil in thinking that the longing of the human heart is satisfied in seeking power and glory from this world. Instead, as sons and daughters of God, we truly find happiness in our communion with the Lord. Therefore, Jesus responded to the devil as Moses reminded the people of old: “The LORD, your God, shall you fear; him shall you serve” (Dt 6:13). True authority is that coming from the Lord and assisting us to praise and serve the Almighty.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Lk 4:9). The third temptation is forcing God to act on our own time. It is the wanting to have control over God or be equal to God. This reminds us of what the serpent said to our first parents in Genesis in persuading them to disobey God and to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree: “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Gn. 3:5). The fall of our first parents has much to do with wanting to “be like gods.” Jesus reaffirmed his identity as the Son who always obeys the Father by repeating what Moses instructed the Israelites of the commandment and the necessity of obedience: “You shall not put the LORD, your God, to the test, as you did at Massah. But keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, and the ordinances and statues that he enjoyed on you” (Dt 6: 16-17).
The testing of Jesus resembles those of Israel during the wandering in the desert and later in Canaan. Thus, the victory of Jesus, as the true Son, contrasts with the failure of the ancient and disobedient “son,” the old Israel. The Church is the new Israel and is called to learn from the example of Christ, the Head, in conquering temptation.
What are the “riches in Christ” that help all members of the New Israel to overcome temptation? Here are the riches we learn in the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent: Each refusal of Jesus is expressed in language taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. If we are to overcome temptation in this life, we need to immerse ourselves in God’s word. During this Lent, let us spend more time in prayer with the Holy Scriptures and be attentive to the Word of God proclaimed at Mass.