Year C: First Sunday of Lent

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4: 1-13

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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” The he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said 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 guard you,’ and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. This Lent: As you think of “giving things up”.  Consider a shift in giving up willful control and management of your temptations, for discovering your own brokenness and God’s presence and invitations within them. Try to identify a temptation you face. This could be something obvious or more subtle in your life. Develop a simple phrase or word that represents this temptation for you. As you move through Lent, reflect on that phrase from time to time during the day. Use the phrase to help you move “into the desert” the interior desert, in prayer with Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In our culture, what are we tempted to worship other than God?
  2. In what areas of your life do you struggle with the temptations of Power, Prestige, and Possessions?
  3. How does your personal experience with temptation help you relate to Jesus’ suffering in the desert?
  4. Where are the temptations of Power, Prestige, and Possessions most present in your life?
  5. What new gifts, awareness, or growth have emerged from your experience with temptation?

Biblical Context

Luke 4: 1-13 Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

The First Sunday of Lent always features Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and today, we hear Luke’s rendition of the story. Luke carefully presents this incident in conjunction with what came before it and as a foretaste of what is to come in the rest of his Gospel. Luke sets the scene by connecting Jesus’ baptism with what follows immediately thereafter. At the baptism, Jesus heard the divine voice call him “Son.” Now, filled with the Spirit, he is led into the desert to be tempted. These 40 days recall Israel’s desert sojourn, the 40 days Moses spent fasting and writing down God’s law (Exodus 34:28), and Elijah’s 40-day walk to the place where he would meet God (1 Kings 19:8). Those three events provide the backdrop for Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. The devil frames two of his attempts to tempt Jesus as challenges to his status as Son of God. In the first, the devil suggests that the Son of God should never suffer hunger, but rather use his power to provide for himself. When Jesus answers that he does not live by bread alone, it is no vow to live hungry. (Remember, the Gospels are much more apt to portray Jesus as frequenting banquets than foregoing food — he even defends his disciples who break Sabbath restrictions to get a snack.) The point of Jesus’ response about bread is not to promote fasting, but a declaration that he believes in God’s providence more than in his own desires or plans. John 4:34 underlines the same idea when Jesus tells his disciples, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” This is not a question of eating, but of relating to God as a trusting, obedient son. The second temptation includes a good dose of irony as the devil claims power over all the kingdoms of the world. Scripture proclaims that God rules all the nations (See Psalms 22:28-29, 103:19, and Zechariah 14:9), and even in this verse, the devil only claims that “it has been handed over to me” to distribute, thus admitting that he does not have full control. Ultimately, this is a temptation to worship power — whether by directly dedicating himself to acquiring it or indirectly through collaboration with or submission to demonic power. Jesus’ response, taken from Deuteronomy as was his first, is that only God deserves worship. Nothing else is valuable enough to merit his dedication. The third temptation, to leap off the Temple parapet, goes to the heart of religion and Jesus’ own life journey that culminated in the holy city. This can be seen as a temptation to manipulate God or to use religion as an insurance policy. Ultimately, it suggests the hope or belief that God’s own will never suffer — a theory that is untenable in light of the lives of the prophets and undone by the Book of Job. Jesus’ temptations are prototypes of every individual’s temptation and the things that can destroy the life of any community, including the church. Jesus’ responses offer guidelines, reminding us of the implications of claiming our status as children of God. When it comes to bread, we have every reason to trust in God’s providence. When we experience the desire or opportunity to exercise power, Jesus teaches us how to ask, “Whom does it serve?” Finally, he shows us that faith is an invitation to growth in relationship, not an insurance policy or a tool to manipulate God.

 Rethinking Temptation

Reflection Fr. Michael K. Marsh Luke 4: 1-13

Jesus overcame the temptations in the wilderness. He made it possible for us to overcome our temptations. Be like Jesus and just say no. Does that sound familiar? I wonder if that’s how we often hear today’s gospel from Luke.  I’m guessing most of us know the just say no story or some variation of it. Maybe it’s what you were taught or have come to believe. I think it’s often a theme underlying Lent and a common approach for dealing with temptation in our lives. Just say no and if you can’t then try harder. Is it really that simple? Is that all there is to this story? By now you probably know me well enough to know that if I am asking those questions, I don’t think it is; and you’re right, I don’t. It certainly hasn’t been in my life, I don’t think it was in Jesus’ life, and I suspect it’s not in yours. Our lives and our faith are more than the sum of our choices, and our temptations are rarely a simple choice between this or that. So, I want to think out loud and consider a different way of seeing temptation.
  • What if temptation is more than a yes or no question to be answered?
  • What if temptations are not a pop quiz from God testing our love and devotion?
  • What if temptations are more about our learning than God’s score keeping?
  • What if our response to temptation is more about a diagnosis than a judgment?
  • What if temptation is necessary for our salvation, wholeness, and restoration?
  • What if instead of only asking what we will do with our temptations we also asked what we are willing to let our temptations do with us?
  • What if, get ready for this one, what if temptations are the disguises for the good the devil unwittingly does?
  Have you ever thought about temptation in those ways? I know that’s not the usual perspective, but it offers a different way of engaging life and our faith. It tells a very different story about temptation than the, “just say no” story but it neither changes nor distorts the story of Jesus in the wilderness. It is the story of Jesus in the wilderness.   This becomes more clear when we see what comes before and after today’s gospel. The baptism of Jesus is the story immediately before today’s gospel. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and his teaching in the Nazareth synagogue is the story immediately following today’s gospel. I want us to see and consider temptation, Jesus’ and our own, in light of that pattern; baptism, wilderness, public life and ministry. Jesus went to the wilderness immediately after having been baptized. Remember what happened at his baptism? The heaven opened, the Spirit descended, and the Father declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The Father claimed and identified Jesus as his own, just as he does at each of our baptisms. After his baptism Jesus entered the wilderness with the Father’s words echoing in his ears. His identity and relationship with the Father were a given before he went, even before he faced or responded to the first temptation. Whether Jesus said yes or no did not determine his sonship, his belovedness, or that God was well pleased. They already were the reality. Jesus could neither earn them nor lose them, and neither can we. The temptations and struggles in the desert, did not determine how God would see Jesus but how Jesus would see himself. “If you are the Son of God,” began the devil’s temptation of Jesus. It was less a yes or no question about making bread and more a question of Jesus knowing himself and knowing for himself. In struggling with his temptations Jesus began to know himself to be filled with and led by the Spirit. The truth of his baptism and the truth of his Father’s words were confirmed through his temptations in the wilderness. That truth no longer echoed in his ears but in his heart, in the depths of his very being. The temptations called forth in Jesus the confirmation of his baptismal identity and it was that identity by which Jesus overcame the temptations. The devil failed but “he done good.” The devil had unwittingly tempted Jesus into knowing and experiencing the truth about himself; his sonship, his belovedness, and his Father’s pleasure. Jesus’ identity and relationship with the Father were no longer only words spoken from heaven, but a truth and reality experienced in the wilderness, a truth and a reality Jesus would speak to the people of Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” After his time in the wilderness Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, and read to the people from the prophet Isaiah beginning with those words and finishing by telling them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. This is Jesus’ self-understanding, and it was formed by the temptations and his wilderness experience. He is telling the people of Nazareth who he is and what he is about. A couple of weeks ago, I called this the politics of Jesus, his identity and mission, the direction and work of his life. Temptations teach us that about ourselves. Our temptations, struggles, and wilderness experiences offer an opportunity to become more whole, more integrated, more fully ourselves. That’s what they did for Jesus and it’s what they can do for us. The desert monks certainly saw it this way. St. Antony the Great, sometimes called the father of monasticism, goes as far as saying, “Without temptation no one can be saved” (St. Antony 5). We tend to focus on the person, thing, or situation that is tempting us but it’s really about us. Our temptations say more about what is going on within us than what is happening around us. That’s why just say no is an overly simplistic understanding of this gospel and an inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is less about a choice and more about our identity and direction in life. Who am I? Where is my life headed? We answer those questions every time we face and respond to our temptations. We face ourselves and learn the ways in which our life has become disfigured and distorted, disconnected from the original beauty of our creation and the transfiguring presence of God. The type of temptations we experience and the circumstances by which they come are unique to each one of us because they reveal what’s inside us, what fills us. That means that whatever fills us, whatever is going on inside us, is manifested as and triggered by the external circumstance of temptation. Jesus, Luke says, “was full of the Holy Spirit.” That’s for us to know as we read and hear the temptation story but it was for Jesus to discover as he lived the temptation story. Temptation offers us something to be discovered and the opportunity to recover ourselves. So, let me ask you this, and I mean it in the best sense, what are you full of? What fills your life? Look at what tempts you. What causes you to stumble and fall? What distracts you? Who are the people that push your buttons? Where do you get caught and trapped? What circumstances call forth a response other than the one you’d like it to be? This is not about the people, situations, or things. This is about you and discovering what fills and directs your life. What’s going on in you? What do you see? Regardless of what you see there within you, it’s just information, a diagnosis. It’s not a final judgment, a conclusion, or your grade on God’s final exam. We don’t pass or fail our temptations. We learn the truth about how we see ourselves. We learn the truth about the direction our life is headed and who we are becoming. This learning is neither easy nor pain free, but it is the necessary learning by which God reshapes and redirects our life. So, what if this Lent, we follow our temptations? I don’t mean we just say yes and give in to them. And I don’t mean we just say no and turn away from them. What if we follow the learning, they offer us? Where would they take us? What would they give us? They would give us back ourselves. They would return us to the truth of who we are, daughters and sons of God, beloved children, with whom he is well pleased. That’s the gift of temptation and the good the devil unwittingly does. Spiritual Reflection excerpt from, Interrupting the Silence, Fr. Michael K. Marsh