Reflection for the first Sunday of Lent  – Temptation

‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished.’ From Matthew 4:1-11, today’s Gospel.

‘It is not only that God makes a way in the wilderness but that the wilderness is the way.’ Gideon Heugh in ‘Open’, Tear Fund’s Lent booklet.

The Greek word for temptation can also mean testing and it may be tempting to think that what Jesus endures in the wilderness is a one-off experience as he ponders what the revelations at his baptism mean to him. However, it will also influence what lies ahead. Jesus rejects turning into bread the pitta-like flat stones around him to feed himself in the desert but he will eventually teach his disciples to pray for their daily bread (Matt 6:11) and  feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish (Matt. 14:17-21; 15:33-38). As the devil tells him to throw himself off the highest point of the temple so that God’s angels will rescue him, Jesus endures mockery to save himself and come down from the height of the cross on which he is being crucified (Matt 27:38-44,46). He also resists the devil’s offer of dominion over the kingdoms of the world but frequently mentions the kingdom of heaven to those willing to follow his own leadership. The wilderness temptations are not just an ordeal to endure but also tests, preparing him for all that is to come – they underpin Jesus’ encounters with those who are hungry, sick and in need; with those like the Pharisees and Sadducees who later use their powerful connections to test him(Matt 16:1, 19:3 etc); or with those who perhaps care too much about worldly assessments of greatness, his own followers amongst them (Matt 18:1-5). The wilderness is indeed the way.

Throughout, Jesus quotes scripture from similar situations in the Old Testament. His forty days in the wilderness echo the length of time that Israel wandered there after the Exodus and his quote about bread comes from that time in Deuteronomy 8:3. The devil himself quotes scripture from Psalm 91 and challenges Jesus to throw himself off the temple’s pinnacle but Jesus resists with Deuteronomy 6:16 from the time when Moses reminded the people how they tested God about their thirst at Massah even after he had fed them with manna. The same applies in the final temptation when Jesus quotes again from Deuteronomy 6, now at v13 – scripture enables him to think of similar tests and their outcome. As, during our Lenten journey, we consider what has happened to us, perhaps we too can discern tests and temptation that we might have overcome or given in to. But what was learned from those times and did they prepare us for later life events? 

Jesus went from the Jordan’s waters to the arid wilderness, from the crowds to the silence, from the heavens opening to enduring hellish spiritual attacks but scripture was key in what he faced. As similar tests are being faced today, whether the shortage of food in UK supermarkets at the moment, disputed earthly power as in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine or the worship of other powers – apparently Satanists are having a recruitment campaign currently and are now ‘family friendly’!!! Just as Jesus quoted scripture at a testing time, in whatever physical or spiritual temptations each of us is enduring this Lent what scripture could help overcome it?

With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.