First Sunday of Lent, Year C Lectio divina on Lk 4,1-13
If it were not well known, the story of the temptations of Jesus would surprise us and shock us. Certainly it is surprising that Jesus, should be led by the Spirit into the desert, there to be tempted for forty days. We are surprised to see Jesus subject to temptation, like the rest of us. The fact that Jesus has to undergo testing makes him appear human, like ourselves, but is there not something disturbing about the fact that Jesus feels tempted by evil? We can identify with this Jesus who suffered temptation and experienced the same doubts, the same rebellion, the same wish to be free from God that we experience, and that we, unfortunately sometimes give way to. His being tempted makes him seem closer to us, but does it not make him less divine?
At that time: 1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit 2 for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone.'” 5 And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” 9 And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ 11 and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The gospel tradition (Mk 1,12-13; Mt 4:1-11; Jn 6,14-15; 7,1-9; 12,27-28), and also Hebrews 2, 14-18 and 4.15, reveal the disconcerting fact that Jesus was tempted. Luke places his account of the three temptations in a strategic location (Lk 4,1-13), immediately after he affirms the full humanity of Jesus by publishing his genealogy (Lk 3:23-38), and immediately before he recounts the beginning of his public ministry at Nazareth (Lk 4,14-30). He was proclaimed by God as his beloved Son (Lk 3,22). He is also son of his people and of the human race (Lk 3,23-37). Before being rejected by his own townspeople (Lk 4,24-30), he has to choose to be as God wants him to be, his beloved Son. Divine sonship is for Jesus a grace he must defend. The triple temptation he must undergo is an experience that he confronts guided by the Spirit. It begins when he is feeling weak, after a long fast, but the temptation comes, not from human weakness, but from the enemy of God.
Luke has changed the order found in Matthew. He makes the temptation in the temple of Jerusalem the highest point of the devil’s attack, which begins and ends with a challenge to the divine sonship of Jesus (Lk 4, 3.9) that was assured by God at his baptism (Lk 3,22). In the temptations, Jesus experienced a struggle between two wills, two powers, that of the Father who willed him as his Son, and that of the devil who disputed the will of God. The place of battle was the personal consciousness of Jesus, but the real combatants were God and his opponent.
The account of the three attacks, in a single temptation, is schematic: the first and the last (Lk 4,3.9) determine the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, ahead of his more urgent needs for food and attention. In the second temptation, the devil changes tactics. He begins by promising Jesus that, if he adores him, he will be all-powerful. It is significant that this promise is not backed up by the word of God, like the other two. And it is even more significant that Jesus resists the three attacks and overcomes them by relying, without comment, on the word of the Father. The sons of God will be saved when they allow the word of the Father to be their defence. To hold to what God has said is to remain in the Father’s love.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
Led by the Spirit, Jesus is tempted in the desert. The story seems straightforward and simple, but it is full of meaning and rich in symbolism. Jesus repeats the experience of Israel in the desert and he emerges victorious over evil, until another “opportune time”. Being in possession of the Spirit of God, and his mastery of the Word, lead him to a triple victory: victory over his own bodily needs, victory over the thirst for power, and the victory of his own awareness that he was the Son of God. In all three cases, Jesus lets God be God and this is what determines his victory over the tempter. He is hungry, but puts the will of God before food. He is tempted to choose power, but chooses instead to obey God. He knows that he is the Son of God and will not put it to the test. He, the Son, experienced temptation and proved his sonship. It will be difficult for anyone who refuses to face temptation or fears that he will give way to it, to aspire to be considered a son. Anyone who possesses the Spirit of Jesus and obeys God’s Word, will be victorious in the time of trial, because he knows he can rely on God, even when his fidelity is tested by temptation.
It may seem hard to explain, but knowing that Jesus was tempted should be good news for us today. There is something good and a reason for hope in all of this. It is not for nothing that we have just proclaimed as word of God the story of the temptations that Jesus had to undergo in the desert. The first thing we should learn from this Gospel reading is that there is nothing deplorable, nothing unworthy, in being subjected to temptation. If the Son of God was tempted, we should not feel embarrassed or humiliated at having to admit that we also face temptation. Anyone who has not known doubt, can never know certainty. If we have never felt the temptation to free ourselves from God, we will never know the joy of remaining in his presence. Anyone who has not known the possibility of abandoning God, will never know the reasons why he should remain with him. Anyone who has not felt the desire to plan his own life independently of God, will never accept fully God’s plan. Anyone who has never wanted to live by his own light and with his own strength, will not know what it means to live in God’s light and with his strength.
The believer who is tempted is not weaker or less faithful than others, but has more opportunity to show his fidelity. Only the one who is tempted, is able to prove his fidelity. Fidelity that has not been tested is fidelity that is still to be tested. We need to call to mind more often that temptation, our daily temptations, are not an obstacle to our meeting God, but rather an opportunity to choose to stay with God. Only those who are living with God are tempted to leave him. It is encouraging, and it is good news, to know that it is the children of God, and not strangers or enemies of God, who are tempted. Hatred is not a temptation for the enemy but only for a friend or family member. Being tempted to renounce the Father is proof that we are his children – Jesus, the Son of God, experienced this temptation. Knowing this should help us to use our temptations and trials, the small daily temptations and also the bigger less frequent ones, to prove our fidelity to God and allow him to make us his children.
The first temptation undergone by Jesus related to his need for food. After fasting for forty days, he felt hungry and was tempted to use his divine power to satisfy his hunger. It would have been enough to tell the stones to become bread. But he chose to put up with his hunger and refused to satisfy it miraculously. He knew that he owed his life to God, his Father, and that the Father would take care of it. He preferred to trust God than to trust in his own powers. His need for God was greater than his need for food.
The son knows that what matters is not to live life anxiously seeking to satisfy his own desires and needs, however important they may be, but to live life meeting the desires and needs of his Father. A son is defined, not by what he needs, but by how much his father needs him. If the son wastes time and energy looking for food to satisfy his hunger, there is no need for a father who lives in order to give life to his sons and sustain them. We should not be surprised that Jesus was hungry, nor that he felt the need to look for food, but we should envy his capacity to delay gratification in order to allow God, his Father, the joy of satisfying his hunger. If we want to have God as our Father, we will need to learn from Jesus, the Son of God, to put ourselves into God’s hands and wait for him to satisfy our needs. For the children of God, nothing, no matter how urgent or irresistible it may be, can come before the will of the Father.
The second temptation experienced by Jesus is even more relevant and more dangerous. He was offered power over all the world, if he denied his God and Father. Jesus refused absolutely: only God is deserving of exclusive service. Filial obedience is due only to the Father. Nothing is to be preferred to God, not even power so great that it would make him like God. Being able to rely on God as Father is to enjoy the power to God.
Anyone who overcomes, as Jesus did, the temptation to exercise power over others, does not render himself weak. Instead, he allows God to be his God more readily, and he becomes more securely his son. Knowing that we are servants of God frees us from serving other gods. We know ourselves: nobody is more free than the one who has only one Master to serve. Having God as our God makes us sons of one Father. How much more freedom we would enjoy, if we lived to serve God alone! Instead of living peacefully with God as our Father and only Master, we destroy ourselves by worrying about how important we are, or what we are able to do, constantly comparing ourselves with others. By not choosing to serve God alone, we lose the chance of having his almighty power at our disposal. By choosing other fathers, we deny God the possibility of being our only Father.
The third temptation overcome by Jesus was the most subtle and the most serious. He knew with certainty that he was the Son of God, and he felt that he could rely with certainty on his Father’s protection. What use is a Father that cannot save his Son? A God who did not help his own children would be of little benefit. The trust that Jesus had in his Father could lead him to temerity. It would be wrong for the Son to risk his life, just because he knew that God would protect him. It is wrong to put the Father to the test, just to prove that one is a son.
Jesus, the Son of God, did not put his Father to the test, precisely because he knew that he was the Son of God. Anyone who expects too much from God, who asks for more than God wants to give at any particular moment, or gives up on God because he does not give him what he wants, is putting God to the test. He does not accept God’s decisions or respect his will. God is not at the service of whoever needs him or only when he is needed. The Father of Jesus wants to be our Master always, in time of need and in time of plenty, in sorrow and in joy, in small things and in big things.
Jesus, the Son of God, reminds us today that there is no shame in suffering temptation. There is no son who has not felt, at some time or other, the desire to leave his father. This is comforting, but it is also demanding. Only those who choose to remain always at home with their father, doing his will, whatever it may cost, is truly a son of God. If temptation is the way to remain more consciously with God our Father, then we should welcome it.