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The Temptations of Christ: Part One

[1] Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. [2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. [3] And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. [4] Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. [5] Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,

[6] And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. [7] Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. [8] Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, [9] And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. [10] Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.

Matthew 4: 1-10

 

Lent is a time for confronting evil, both within and without us.  During Lent we recall Christ’s temptation by Satan, the culmination of his forty days and nights in the desert.  This passage has always struck me as mysterious.  Why would God allow Satan to tempt Him to sin?  Why would Satan attempt to do so?

The answer to the  first question is that God became one of us.  Like us in our humanity He was subject to the lure of sin.  The Incarnation is filled with mysteries but few are deeper than this.  God allowed Himself to feel the same attraction to sin, the revolt against the Divine Will, that we, in our Fallen humanity, feel.  He exposed Himself to every weakness that we experience and allowed Satan the opportunity to see if he could tempt God, too, to Fall.  And that was the attraction for Satan.  Eternally in revolt from the love of God, his only hope for victory in this doomed rebellion was to convince God to reject His own love.  God deciding to make himself Man must have struck Satan as madness, and perhaps CS Lewis is correct, even inspired Satan’s revolt:

 When the creation of man was first mooted and when, even at that stage, the Enemy freely confessed that he foresaw a certain episode about a cross, Our Father very naturally sought an interview and asked for an explanation. The Enemy gave no reply except to produce the cock-and-bull story about disinterested love which He has been circulating ever since. This Our Father naturally could not accept. He implored the Enemy to lay His cards on the table, and gave Him every opportunity. He admitted that he felt a real anxiety to know the secret; the Enemy replied “I wish with all my heart that you did”. It was, I imagine, at this stage in the interview that Our Father’s disgust at such an unprovoked lack of confidence caused him to remove himself an infinite distance from the Presence with a suddenness which has given rise to the ridiculous enemy story that he was forcibly thrown out of Heaven.

So Christ went out into the wilderness and fasted, deliberately weakening His body, perhaps to inspire Satan to reveal himself and to begin the round of temptation.  Unlike Christ, Satan does not have to await periods of weakness to assail us.  We are always weak when it comes to sin, and it is often in what we think are moments of triumph and power that Satan finds his openings.

One of the interesting aspects of this confrontation is that Christ must have told His Apostles about it, because there were no witnesses to it, yet the Gospels nowhere record the telling of it, no doubt one of a myriad of comments that Christ said which have not come down to us.  The Gospels contain all we need for our salvation, but how wonderful it would be if we possessed everything that Christ told His Apostles.  Perhaps He told this to them to calm their fears that Satan could not be defeated.  In any case we know what occurred which is the important thing.

Satan begins his assault upon Christ when He hungers.  Stop and ponder that.  The Creator of all, the great I AM, hungered and no doubt thirsted.  After forty days Christ would have been at the limits of human endurance when it comes to no food.  Much longer and He would have died.  At this moment of the greatest human weakness, Satan struck.

Next Sunday we will examine the first temptation of Christ:  Bread.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

3 Comments

  1. I have a real fondness for George Stevens’s homage to the gospel story. And not just because I’m a fan of John Wayne.

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