Today Satan approaches Jesus in the desert at the end of His forty days of prayer and fasting and attempts to divert Him from the Father’s plan. The ancient serpent employs the same tactics he used on Eve in the garden, twisting God’s words and playing on human desires. So how much did Satan know about what Jesus intended to do in the years ahead? St. Matthew suggests the Devil knew something of this, because the three temptations Satan puts to Jesus foreshadow His future Passion.
First, Satan comes and says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Is it a coincidence that at the Last Supper Jesus will command bread to transformation into His very Self? It is as if the Devil were saying, “Why not simply give everyone bread. Why give yourself into their hands?” Jesus answers, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Jesus knows that a lifetime supply of bread would not save us. To live forever the Bread of Life must nourish us. Jesus is the Bread of Life. We do not live by bread alone, with whatever this world can offer, but by the Word that comes forth from the mouth of God. The Word of God is Jesus Christ.
This first temptation and Jesus’ answer point to the importance of prayer and the Eucharist. Prayer lifts our minds above having worldly thoughts alone. The Eucharist empowers our hearts to live for God. Do you pray every day? Prayer must be a top priority in Lent. Do you frequently receive Jesus in the Eucharist? In Lent, try coming to weekday Masses. Those who do so find it so powerful and precious that they often wonder how they ever used to make it a full seven days without receiving Jesus in between.
For his next temptation, Satan takes Jesus to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem. About three years later, not far from that place, the hostile Sanhedrin will gather and put Jesus on trial, questioning Him, demanding to know, ‘Are you the Son of God?’ and they’re not going to like His answer. The Devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. [God’s angels will protect you.]” It is as if the Devil were saying, “Since you are a child of God He will be with you to save you no matter what, so why not do your own will and decline to give difficult witness?” But Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
You and I are also children of God and He is always with us, but this must not lead us to presumption. We need to seek His will and give witness in the world by our words and deeds. If we sin, God always offers forgiveness, but we must take Him up on the offer. God always welcomes sinners, but we must turn to Him. To keep sinning without any words or actions of repentance is to put God to the test.
This second temptation and Jesus’ response point to the importance of confession and conversion. This Lent, turn from sin, come to confession at least once, and put some serious thought into planning how you will “sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.”
For the third temptation, the Devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence. He says, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus plans to claim His universal kingdom by climbing another mountain by Himself, Mount Calvary, and by taking his throne on the cross. (This is why Jesus tells James and John that they do not know that they are asking when they request to sit ‘one at His right hand and one at His left when He enters His kingdom and glory.’) Here it is as if the Devil were saying, “If you simply give up you won’t have to sacrifice, you won’t have to suffer. Lay down your cross and lay down before me.” But Jesus rebukes the devil, (much like he will later rebuke St. Peter for saying, ‘God forbid such a thing should ever happen to you): “Get away, Satan! The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
This third temptation and Jesus’ answer point to the importance spiritual sacrifices and patiently bearing our burdens. We have taken on Lenten penances, let us not give them up; and when unforeseen trials come to us, let us trust that Jesus knows what He’s doing; for it is through crosses like these that God makes us holy.
Prayer and the Eucharist, confession and conversion, spiritual sacrifices and patiently bearing our burdens. Let these things be in your response as you are tested these forty days.