1ST SUNDAY OF LENT – A
For the First Sunday of Lent, as the Church proclaims the three temptations of Jesus, our reflection brings us back not just to the moment in time when Jesus was in the desert for forty days and was tempted by the devil but also when Israel was in the desert for forty years and was tempted in the same way. As members of the New Israel and as followers of Jesus, we will have to experience the same temptations.
The first temptation: During the journey of Israel in the desert, in their struggle for survival the first temptation was to trust in their own power in order to live. They were unwilling to trust God to give them subsistence. Now Jesus entered into the same desert to rectify where Israel had failed. He experienced the inhospitable and dangerous desert journey and most especially the hunger of Israel. As the head of the New Israel, he did not rely on his own messianic power even if he could to satisfy his physical hunger. Instead, he abandoned himself to his Father in full trust, perfect loyalty and unwavering dependence. This is our own economic temptation: we cling to anything that will make us survive, no matter what the cost is. Yes food is our most basic need, but there is more than the craving for physical satisfaction: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The second temptation: When Israel was in Massa and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7), they demanded a miracle from the Lord to give them water from the rock. In the same way the devil tempted Jesus to perform a miracle by throwing himself from the top of the temple. Because Jesus fully trusted in his Father, the devil tempted him to abuse this trust by demanding something spectacular. Jesus redeemed Israel’s failure by not giving in to the demand of the devil: “Do not tempt the Lord your God.” In the present time, the devil’s temptation to us appeals to pragmatism and to make religion worldly. We make demands to God and we crave for miracles in the name of trust and providence believing that God will not fail us.
The third temptation: When Moses stayed on Mt. Horeb for forty days, the Israelites clamored for the presence of God and were tempted to make the golden calf as their god. It was idolatry. Jesus in the same way was tempted with worldly power and wealth if only to worship a false god. In redeeming Israel, Jesus once again proclaimed his fidelity to his Father: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” The offer of the devil to Jesus is as real as it is now to those who want the easy way towards fortune and fame. Why would I take the hard way and make sacrifices when I can get these things without the sweat of my brow. Sometimes, we never know, we are already entangled in the web of our idolatry because we have been addicted in worshipping our worldly idols.
Israel was tempted and failed. Jesus was also tempted but triumphed! In the same way, we will also be tempted as long as we live but if we remain faithful to Jesus and do not rely on our own power, he will turn these temptations into moments of grace as he re-creates us closer to the person he wants us to be.