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Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Sunday Lent - Temptation of Christ - Gospel of Matthew

First Sunday of Lent
March 13, 2011
March 9, 2014
March 5, 2017
Temptation of Christ

Why do we spend forty days in our own spiritual desert every year during Lent? Why forty? In the Old Testament Noah stays in the ark forty days; the Israelites wander in the desert forty years eating manna; and Moses resides on Mount Sinai forty days conversing with God.

What is so important about this number? The normal length of gestation of a baby in the womb is forty weeks. Before Jesus began his earthly ministry he was led by the Holy Spirit “forty days in the wilderness,” where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. Forty days, weeks, years, a long time for some, but is it enough? Maybe that is why we are brought back to the desert every year for forty days – as a reminder.


In today’s gospel, Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is asked by the devil to misuse the power he has been given by his Father. He is tempted three times encouraged to think of himself and his own comfort at the expense of others. Satan’s reasons even sound reasonable or logical. After all Jesus IS God, he can do anything.



In the first temptation the devil demands Jesus perform a self-serving miracle. Jesus is fasting, he must be hungry, there is no food, Jesus is God and capable of turning the desert stones into bread. Not submitting, Jesus draws strength to continue his fast from the Word of God, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

In the second temptation the devil suggests that Jesus prove he is God by amazing the world with a dazzling exhibition; jump from the top of the temple and survive. If you need help, don't worry the Angels will catch you. Again Jesus calls on the Word of God, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

In the third temptation Satan took Jesus to a high mountain, showing him all the kingdoms of the world he suggests Jesus sell himself out. "All these I shall give you, if your will prostrate yourself and worship me." At this Jesus responds,"Get away, Satan!  It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

The difference between the Israelites journey in the desert and Jesus’ is that the Israelites succumbed to temptation (like each of us), whereas Jesus overcomes temptation. In doing so, he shows us how we too may conquer the attraction of sin. Jesus did not seek personal glory or political success but to do the will of God his Father. In this gospel Jesus stayed deeply attached to his heavenly Father and he shows us that we may defeat temptation by prayer, fasting and having God’s words in our mind, on our lips and forever in our heart. (Thank you Father Gary Thomas our pastor at Saint Nicholas for that teaching.)

We know what entices us to fall, so does the devil. We are easily tempted, and we easily surrender. We make a deal with our self, maybe sell out, just for this one time. In our heart of hearts we all know our shortcomings.



The Church encourages us to seek spiritual renewal during the forty days of Lent: “Lord protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self-denial.” This Lent we are reminded that we are sinners, in need of repentance and try as we might we cannot rid ourselves of temptation or sin on our own, but only by the grace of God. Our God is always there to pick up the pieces when we meet difficulties, always willing to forgive, always ready with a second chance. Trust in God, pray and God’s grace and our fortitude will lead us, like Jesus, out of the desert.

The Lord allowed the devil to tempt him so that we would have his example as well as the power of his help when we face temptation.” Saint Leo the Great


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Art
Temptation of Christ - Botticelli
Temptation of Christ - Rubens
Temptation of Christ - Botticelli

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