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The First Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Temptations in the Desert 

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Is this a real test of Jesus? Is it a real temptation? I think so, in the sense that in his human nature, Jesus would have a natural desire to reveal his true identity to everyone, to have everyone believe in him as son of God, which is what many people would do if they were to see him suspended and levitating in the air above the Temple Mount. “Clearly this guy is the son of God or clearly this man has powers from God”, which is not what they’re going to say when he’s hanging on Calvary. They’re going to say, “If you’re the son of God, come down from the cross”, effectively replicating Satan’s temptation here. “If you’re the son, then prove it. Prove it.”

Okay, so what’s going on then? In each of these cases, what Jesus is doing is recapitulating the temptation of Adam in the desert and overcoming it. So whereas Adam fell to the lust of the flesh, Jesus conquers it. Whereas Adam fell to the lust of the eyes, Jesus conquers it. Where Adam fell into pride, Jesus has humility and follows the will of his Father. So he is a new Adam, undoing the effects of the fall. And if you have any doubts about that, just remember that Luke 4:1, the beginning of the temptation, comes right after Luke 3:38, which is the end of Luke’s genealogy. And in Luke’s genealogy he doesn’t do like Matthew, where Matthew begins with Abraham and David and then goes down to Joseph. Luke’s genealogy begins with Joseph and goes backwards all the way to Adam. So the last word before the temptation narrative in Luke’s gospel is, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” So he’s just told you about Adam and now Jesus goes into the desert and has these three temptations which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in the desert to show that he is now overcoming them. So that’s what’s going on in the temptation in the desert which is why we use it for Lent, because effectively, what’s taking place then, in the Season of Lent, is that we are now going to recapitulate the temptations of Jesus in ourselves. Just as he spent forty days and forty nights in the desert, so too we enter into the season of Lent, which is forty days and forty nights, and during this time we’re called to do three things: pray (more intensely), fast (more intensely), and give alms (more intensely). That’s why the reading for Ash Wednesday is from Matthew 6. When you pray, don’t tell anybody about it; when you fast (not if you fast), don’t tell everyone about it (do it in secret); and then when you give alms, do it in secret. Each of those three directives that Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount (and in the reading for Ash Wednesday) are tied to the three temptations.

So how do I overcome the lusts of the flesh? How do I battle my disorder-desire for the pleasure of the flesh? Well, by putting that desire to death, by mortifying it voluntarily through fasting. It’s really important. Jesus assumes his disciples will fast and the Church calls us not just to abstinence during Fridays of Lent, but she reads the words of Jesus calling us to fast, to abstain from food. We’re only required to do it on Good Friday, that’s a binding day of fasting, but, the Church’s tradition for time immemorial has been that Lent is a season of fasting. So whatever fasting you do (or don’t do) during the regular part of the year, during Lent that needs to be intensified; there needs to be an intentional commitment to fasting. Not because food is bad, but because it’s good; because we’re too attached to it. And so in order to build up the virtue of being detached from the lust of the flesh, we fast.

The same thing with the lust of the eyes. Do you have a problem with a disordered desire for possessions? Well then give them away. Do acts of charity and almsgiving during Lent — not just during Christmas but during Lent — to help build up the virtue of detachment from possessions. And then finally, prayer helps us to build up the virtue of humility. Are you prideful? Do you have a disordered self-love? (If you’re human, say yes). Okay, well, then pray. Intensify your prayer, because in prayer we grow in humility, especially if you try doing it for any length of time, you will learn very quickly that you have no idea what you’re doing and that as competent as you may be at everything else in life, whether it’s business or finances or whatever skills you might have, when it comes to prayer, you’re like a little kid just flailing in the shallow end of the pool. So we need to grow in our strength, the virtue of humility, recognizing that prayer is a gift and growing in prayer is a gift, and we need God to help us with that. So those are the spiritual disciplines, traditionally, for lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. So this Lent, don’t just make it about losing a few pounds or abstaining from chocolate. Jesus did not come into the world so that we can abstain from chocolate for forty days a year. He came into the world to help us, to show us that this triple concupiscence can be overcome, he conquered it, and then to give us the grace and strength to do the same, and to give us practical disciplines for doing that: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And if you live a religious life, if you live a consecrated life, you live that in a radical way through three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience...

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