Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and
was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by
the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he
was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command
this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is
written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" Then the devil led him up
and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said
to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has
been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will
worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is
written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil
took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to
him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is
written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On
their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against
a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your
God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed
from him until an opportune time."
Today we hear verses of St. Luke’s description of our Lord’s
preparation for his public ministry. After his baptism by John the Baptist I
the Jordan, he was proclaimed by the Father’s voice from heacen to be his Son
and the Messiah, the suffering Servant (cf, Isaiah 40-53).
He was then led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, near the
Jordan, where he fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil. This
incident in Christ’s life must have been told later by himself to his
disciples, as nobody else was present with him at this time. It was cherished
by the early church, as its insertion into all three synoptic Gospels shows. It
was regarded as most important because it proves that Christ had real human
nature, that he suffered both hunger and humiliation in order to set us an
example. He did not need to fast, nor did he need to allow the devil to tempt
him, but we need the one and must expect and struggle with the second. Finally,
it brings out the other-worldliness of the messianic kingdom that our Lord is
about to set up.
Christ’s voluntary self-mortification of forty days fast,
with its accompanying temptations, was but part of the self-mortification, with
its climax on the cross, which he gladly underwent for our salvation. He did
not need to fast in order to keep he inclinations of the body in subjection, he
did not need to allow the insult of temptation. He could have said, “begone
Satan” at the beginning as easily and as effectively as he said it at the end.
But he willingly underwent this humiliation in order to set
us an example and to prove to us the infinite love he bears us and the value,
the priceless value, he sets on our eternal salvation. He became like us in all
things (except sin) in order to make it possible for us to become like him, the
beloved of his Father and co-heirs with him in the kingdom of heaven.
With this example given us by Christ no Christian can or
should expect to travel the road to heaven without meeting obstacles and
temptations. Our weak human nature is of itself, even without any external
tempter, a source of many temptations to us, especially of those three
illustrated in the case of Christ.
Our body desires all the pleasures and comforts that can be
got out of life and resents any curtailment of these desires even on the part
of our Creator and Benefactor. Our gifts of intelligence and free-will often
tempt most of us to look for power, political or economic, over our fellowmen.
We want to be better off than others in this world, when our
purpose in life is to help ourselves and our fellowmen to the better life.
Finally, so fully occupied are many in the mad rush after pleasure ad power
that they have no time to devote to the one thing that matters, the attainment
of eternal life.
We are not free from such inclinations or temptations, but
we can and should beat our breasts and say with the publican, “O God, be
merciful to me a sinner.” And merciful he will be if we turn to him with true
humility. He may not remove all our temptations, all our wrong inclinations,
but he will give us the grace to overcome them if we sincerely seek his aid.