Sunday Scriptures

The Lenten Season Offers A Look at Jesus’ Nature

By Father John P. Cush, STD

The gospel reading presented to us for the First Sunday of Lent is rather familiar to all of us — Our Lord’s temptation in the desert. In fact, in every cycle of the lectionary (recall that the “A” cycle offers us Matthew’s Gospel, the “B” cycle offers us that of Mark, and in the “C” cycle, which we are in this liturgical year, we are reading from the Gospel of Luke), this important event in the life of Jesus the Christ is proclaimed.

Let’s put things into context here for a moment in Luke’s Gospel — what’s happening in Jesus’ life as he experiences the temptation from Satan, the accuser, in the desert: He has just been baptized by John in the Jordan, wherein definitively the voice of the Father is heard, proclaiming for all to hear that “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

The Evangelist Luke informs his readers that Jesus is 30 years old; and now, in this fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus, before beginning his public ministry, goes into the desert, which, as we know from the Old Testament is a place of danger and uncertainty (look to the experience of the Israelites in Exodus), and stays there for 40 days and 40 nights (recall that the number 40 is significant for the Old Testament, signifying a long period of time). It might also be important to recall that in Luke’s Gospel, the story of the temptation of the Lord in the desert is recounted right after the genealogy of Jesus is explored.

The Evangelist Saint Luke, unlike in Matthew’s Gospel (which starts with the family line with Abraham in Matthew 1), begins the genealogy with Adam, the first human being. Why would he do this? Simply to show that Jesus, “the Son of Adam,” and only he alone can conquer the universal earthly desire which all humanity suffers — the desire for earthly pleasures and bodily needs and the desire for power and glory. These two desires are the cause of most of the conflicts and wars in human history.

The temptations that the Lord faces in the desert are not temptations to sin. The Lord Jesus is the All-Holy One of God. He is All-Truth, All-Goodness, All-Beauty. Since he is one Divine Person in two natures (human and divine), he is one like us in all things but sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 467).

The impeccability of the Lord Jesus does not make him more than human; it does not make him less than human. No, in fact, it demonstrates the manner in which the human being was created by God in the Garden of Eden (recall Genesis 1 and 2). Christ has no concupiscence, no inordinate desire to sin, as we fallen human beings do. Therefore, these temptations are not temptations to sin.

So what are these temptations that Our Good Lord faced? First, the temptation to turn stone to bread. Second, the temptation to take charge of all the kingdoms of the world. Third, and finally, to go to the parapet of the Temple and to hurl himself off, and, as the Deceiver so subtly stated, “if you are the Son of God,” then the Holy Angels would catch him.

The first temptation is to turn stone to bread. By turning stones to bread, the Lord Jesus would be using his own messianic power to take care of his own physical needs. The second of the temptations is, having seen the powers of this world, to claim the Kingdom, which he is in himself, right here, right now. This is a temptation to earthly power. Jesus is not a political messiah.

The third and final temptation is to test the will of God the Father by performing an act demonstrating Christ’s divinity before he has even begun his public ministry.

Lent offers us the opportunity to reflect on the natures and Person of the Christ and how and what kind of Messiah Jesus is for us. Know that he is the Spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who knows our human condition in all things but sin, and is able to help us conquer our own sins and temptations.

Readings for First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy  26:4-10

Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13

Father Cush is the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.