by Father Anthony F. Raso
THE MYSTERY OF the Incarnation – of God’s coming into this world and becoming one of us – is just that: a mystery. It is difficult to comprehend the enormity of it, and the Church struggled for centuries to do so. Now we understand that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” He was as charismatic and as fascinating a teacher as ever walked through our world; He performed miracles at will; He raised the dead, including Himself on Easter Sunday, thus displaying a power only God could have if He was truly God. However, He was also truly a human being, “one like us in all things but sin.” Now, like us, He was shown dramatically in our Gospel today on this First Sunday of Lent.
That phrase is, once again, “in all things but sin.” He was subject to temptation, as we can see in His confrontation with Satan today, and as it would be for all of us, that confrontation was difficult indeed.
We should never, ever, at the risk of our souls doubt that Satan is as shrewd and bold as can be. That, too, is more than evident in our Gospel today. Jesus has been alone in the desert for “forty days” – a long time. And it is not just His appetite that is haunting Him but also His future. Ahead of Him is rejection and derision and a seemingly endless series of attempts by the leaders of His people to trip Him up.
Finally, there will be a mock trial, a scourging, a crown of thorns, a shrugging Pilate, the carrying of his cross and death on Golgotha. As will later be made clear by Jesus Himself, He dreads these things – and who of us, as human beings, would not fear and dread them? When the devil finds Him in the desert, he knows what Jesus is thinking and, as he does with us, he jumps at the opportunity.
Jesus is hungry, so the devil tells Him to stop the nonsense and change stones into bread. Jesus, human like us, considers it for a moment: One notices that He does not interrupt Satan as he speaks. Finally, however, the answer is no. Then the devil takes Him up on the highest mountain and shows Him all of the kingdoms of the earth. All of them are in the palm of his hand (and still are), and he suggests that, instead of going through those years of rejection, Jesus should meet him halfway and compromise His mission, just a little. Again, one notes that Satan finishes his suggestion, Jesus is listening … but finally, no again.
A compromise with Satan is a trip over quicksand, and no one knows that better than Jesus. Finally, the devil takes Him to the top of the temple and presents Him with the final temptation: Jump! Angels will catch you when that happens, and everyone will see it happen, so there will be no trial, no scourging, no crown of thorns, no cross, no nails, no lance, no borrowed tomb that He will enter too soon. The angels sang of “peace on earth” the night You were born? Well good: How about some “peace on earth” for You right now, Jesus? Jesus listens … but finally, the answer is still no.
Two things are very clear from all of this: Jesus turns aside the sins Satan is suggesting, but also, like the “one of us” that He is, He listens. He’s tempted. The devil certainly knows what buttons to push, a talent he still possesses. However, Jesus knows that He didn’t come into this world to be a compromiser; He came here to be our Savior, our Redeemer, Someone Who would save us from our sins. He was Someone for Whom the cross was waiting, but His love for us was the strongest thing of all in His mind, His heart and His will.
As Moses tells his people in today’s first reading, now is the time to celebrate God’s gifts to us and to rededicate ourselves to returning those gifts to Him by lives filled with grace. To stop and compromise must be no more an option for us than it was for Christ. Like Him, we’ll be tempted, but we must endure and triumph over Satan as He did in the desert and later on the cross. When temptation comes to us, as it did to Jesus Himself, we must remember the words of St. Paul to the Romans today: “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” Satan’s “help” won’t save us; Only the Son of God can do that. That’s why He was born, and no matter what the temptation was, He never forgot it. Neither should we.
As Lent begins, we should also never forget how our Gospel ends today: It doesn’t say that Satan puts his tail between his legs and leaves forever. It says, “… he departed from Him for awhile.” He’d be back, and he will also be making multiple visits to us. Our best Lenten intention this year is to be ready for him when he comes back now just as Jesus our Brother was on Good Friday.
Readings for the First Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13
Father Anthony F. Raso is the newly appointed administrator of Guardian Angel parish, Brighton Beach.