Sunday, March 5, 2017
Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert
Temptations in the desert of life
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us read the Bible as you read it to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross, which seemed to signal the end of all hope, appeared to them as source of life and resurrection.
Create in us a space of silence that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in Scripture, in events and people, above all in the poor and the suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the disciples of Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of brotherhood and sisterhood, of justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who have revealed the Father and sent your Spirit. Amen
a) A key to the reading:
Let us read this text describing the temptations of Jesus, temptations that are also those of all human beings. While reading this text we should pay attention to the following: what are the temptations, where do they take place, and how does Jesus deal with them?
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Mt 4,1-2: The situation where and whence the temptation arises: desert, spirit, fast and hunger
Mt 4,3-4: The temptation concerning bread.
Mt 4,5-7: The temptation concerning prestige.
Mt 4,8-11: The temptation concerning power.
c) The text:
1-2: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.
3-4: And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
5-7: Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"
8-11: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
3. A time of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and enlighten our lives.
4. Some questions
to help us meditate and pray.
a) What were the temptations? What is the connection between the Spirit, the desert, the fast and hunger and the temptation of Jesus?
b) What does the word temptation suggest to us today? How does it affect me in my daily life?
c) The tempter or Satan is he or she or that which takes me away from or makes me deviate from God’s path. It may be that I have already been Satan for someone, just like Peter was for Jesus.
d) The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. This recalls to mind the temptations of the people in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. What does Matthew wish to suggest and teach through this reminder of the temptations of the people in the desert?
e) The devil uses the Bible to tempt Jesus. Jesus uses the Bible to overcome the temptation! Can the Bible be used for everything? How and for what end do I use the Bible?
f) The temptation of the bread. How can we speak of God to those who have all they need? How can we speak of God to those who are hungry?
g) The temptation concerning prestige. Prestige from knowledge, from money, from faultless moral conduct, from appearances, from fame, from honour. Do these exist in my life?
h) The temptation concerning power. Wherever two people meet, a relationship of power comes into play. How do I use the power that comes my way: in my family, in the community, in society, in my neighbourhood? Do I give in to the temptation?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the matter.
= Jesus was tempted. Matthew renders the temptations intelligible: temptation of the bread, temptation of prestige, temptation of power. These are various forms of messianic hope that, then, existed among the people. The glorious Messiah who, like a new Moses, would feed the people in the desert: "command these stones to turn into bread!" The unknown Messiah who would impose himself on all by means of a spectacular sign in the Temple: "throw yourself from here!" The nationalist Messiah who would come to dominate the world: "All these things I will give to you!"
= In the Old Testament, identical temptations allow the people in the desert to fall after their exodus from Egypt (Dt 6,3; 6,16; 6,13). Jesus repeats history. He resists the temptations and prevents them from perverting God’s plan in order to suit it to his human interests of the moment. The tempter or Satan is whatever makes us deviate from God’s plan. Peter was Satan for Jesus (Mt 16,23).
= Temptation was always there in the life of Jesus. It went with him from the beginning to the end, from his baptism to his death on the cross. For, the more the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom spread in the midst of the people, the greater the pressure on Jesus to adapt himself to the messianic expectations of the people to be the messiah desired and expected by others: "a glorious and nationalist messiah", "a messiah king", "a messiah high priest", "a messiah judge", "a warrior messiah", "a messiah doctor of the law". The letter to the Hebrews says, "Like us, he was tried in all things, except sin" (Heb 4,15).
= But temptation never succeeded in deviating Jesus from his mission. He continued firmly on his journey as "The Servant Messiah", as proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah and awaited especially by the poor, the anawim. In this, Jesus did not fear provoking conflicts with the authorities and with those dearest to him. All those who tried to make him deviate from his path received hard replies and unexpected reactions:
* Peter tried to take him away from the cross: "Far from it, Lord, this will never happen!" (Mt 16,22). And he heard the reply, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mk 8,33).
* His relatives, wanted to take him home. They thought he was mad (Mk 3,21), but they heard harsh words, which seemed to create a rupture (Mk 3,33). Then, when Jesus had become famous, they wanted him to appear more often in public and to remain in Jerusalem, the capital (Jn 7,3-4). Again, Jesus replies showing that is a radical difference between his purpose and theirs (Jn 7,6-7).
* His parents complained: "Son, why have you done so?" (Lk 2,48). But Jesus replies, "Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?" (Lk 2,49).
* The apostles were glad of the publicity Jesus was getting in the midst of the people and wanted him to turn towards the people. "Everyone is looking for you!" (Mk 1,37). But they heard the refusal, "Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring villages and cities, so that I may preach also to them; it is for this that I have come!" (Mk 1,38).
* John the Baptist wanted to coerce Jesus to be "the strict judge messiah" (Lk 3,9; Mt 3,7-12; Mt 11,3). Jesus reminded John of the prophecies and asked him to compare them to facts, "Go tell John what you have heard and seen!" (Mt 11,4-6 and Is 29, 18-19; 35,5-6; 61,1).
* The people, when they saw the signs of the multiplication of the bread in the desert, concluded, "This surely is the prophet who is to come on earth!" (Jn 6,14). They got together to coerce Jesus to be "the messiah king" (Jn 5,15), but Jesus took refuge on the mountain to be with the Father in solitude.
* When in prison and at the hour of darkness (Lk 22,53), the temptation to be "the warrior messiah" appeared. But Jesus says, "Put your sword back into its scabbard!" (Mt 26,52) and "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk 22,40,45).
= Jesus turned to the Word of God and there found light and nourishment. Above all, it is the prophecy of the Servant, proclaimed by Isaiah (Is 42,1-9; 49,1-6; 50,3-9; 52,13-53, 12) that fills him and encourages him to go on. At the baptism and in the transfiguration, he receives the Father’s confirmation for his journey, his mission. The voice from heaven repeats the words with which Isaiah presents the Servant of Yahweh to the people, "This is my beloved Son, hear him!" (Mk 1,11; 9,6).
= Jesus defines his mission with these words, "The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for the redemption of many!" (Mt 20,28; Mk 10,45). This lesson he learnt from his mother who said to the angel, "Behold the servant of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word!" (Lk 1,38). By turning to the Word of God to deepen awareness of his mission and by seeking strength in prayer, Jesus faced temptations. In the midst of the poor, the anawim, and united to his Father, faithful to both, he resisted and followed the way of the Servant Messiah, the way of service to the people (Mt 20,28).
6. Psalm 91 (90)
God our protector is with us in times of temptation
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust."
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of
you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will rescue him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.
7. Closing prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your word, which has made the Father’s will clearer to us. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and give us the strength to follow that which your Word has revealed to us. Like Mary, your Mother, may we not only listen to the Word but also put it into practice. Who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.