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Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent - Temptation of Jesus in the Desert

First Sunday of Lent 2012
First Sunday of Lent 2015

Temptation of Jesus in the Desert
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:12-15)

The first part of this Sunday’s Gospel from Mark, a much shorter version of the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, is succinctly summed up in one sentence, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”(Mark 1:12)

It may be hard to image Jesus being affected by temptation, but he was. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Temptation is simply something that tries to divert us from doing God’s will. One does not have to be bad to be tempted.  Rather, it is how we respond to temptation that determines if we are bad, good, or somewhere in-between.

Jesus who is all good was tempted in the desert and again at Gethsemane. Satan will do the same to us. He will tempt us and try his best to get us to choose our own will over God’s will. You know, like when you start rationalizing something that you know is wrong but, just this once doesn’t sound so bad. Well maybe I am the only one Satan uses that tactic on. If he can’t get me to rationalize myself into sin completely he is so patient, oh so patient, he is satisfied (at least temporarily) with getting me to make one small choice that will little by little lead me away from God’s will. And before I know it I have fully chosen sin over goodness.

“The whole of man’s history has been the story of our combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.” (Catechism #409) God does not leave us without help in this battle. Through His temptation in the desert, Jesus has given us a road map. Following the example of Jesus, my recourse - our recourse, is to repel the enemy, fight him. We are aided in this battle through prayer, perseverance, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the precious Word of God.

In the second part of this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

What is meant by the “kingdom of God?” The phrase occurs 122 times in the New Testament, 99 times it is uttered by Jesus himself. We pray for this every time we pray the Our Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

In chapter three of his book “Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration”, Pope Benedict XVI writes, "The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand...And the answer to this gift is demanded of man: conversion and faith (page 47)....When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: "God exists" and "God is really God," which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world (page 55)...."the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15), it "has already come upon you" (Matthew 12:28), it is "in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21)(page 58)...” There is also the “idealistic interpretation, which tells us that the Kingdom of God is not an exterior structure, but is located in the interiority of man (page 60)…” And finally Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Through Jesus' presence and action, God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way. The reason why now is the fullness of time (Mark 1:15), why now is in a unique sense the time of conversion and penance, as well as the time of joy, is that in Jesus it is God who draws near to us."(page 61)

A precise definition of the “kingdom of God” does not appear to fit into a few short sentences, but Mary Healy summed it up (if it can be summed up) in her book “The Gospel of Mark,” as “The kingdom of God is wherever God’s will is done. This already takes place in heaven, but begins on earth in every heart that surrenders to God’s will. As Paul observes, whoever chooses to live in this kingdom, experiences 'peace, and joy and the Holy Spirit'.”

I like that definition. So today, the first Sunday of Lent, I will do my best with God’s grace to “repent, and believe in the gospel,” and enter into the "Kingdom of God".

Dear Lord please help me to change my way of thinking, my attitudes, and my choices and conform them to Your Holy will. Help me to imitate Christ, and make Him Lord over my life instead of sin, greed, pride, selfishness and worry. Help me to believe in the Gospel, Your Word which is Truth, Life and Love.  Help me to let your precious Kingdom in to touch the interiority of my soul.  Amen

Maybe Lent should be longer than 40 days. Blessed be God, that He is patient and merciful. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7

For devotional items related to the Catholic faith, please visit Lynn's Timeless Treasures.  
Temptation of Christ (mosaic in basilica di San Marco)
Temptation of Christ - Eric Armusik
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness - James Tissot
Sermon on the Mount - Fra Angelico
Sermon on the Mount - Cosimo Rosselli (Sistine Chapel)

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