The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is an account from either Matthew, Mark or Luke of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Today we hear Luke’s account. As we find in Matthew’s account, there is a dialogue between Jesus and the devil. For some time now, I have seen these temptations as having to do with control. And I think that is why the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert in the first place. Because if Jesus gave into the temptation to force things to go in a way that would relieve Him of suffering or bend others to His will, then the mission of salvation would not be accomplished.
The first temptation the devil gives to a hungry Jesus was to turn the stones there into bread so He could eat. I see this as a temptation to control the environment to satisfy one’s needs. Since Jesus was hungry after all that fasting, it might seem innocent to turn some stones into bread. But that was not what the stones were for. We are tempted, as human beings, to exploit creation for our own ends, instead of recognizing our relationship to all of creation and caring for it.
The second temptation the devil gives to Jesus was to give Him rule over all the kingdoms of the earth, if only He would pay homage to him. I see this as a temptation to control all other human beings. Wouldn’t it be great if God had just forced us to do right? Why would Jesus have to have suffered for our sins? I don’t think I have to say much about how we’re tempted to control others. When we get to driverless cars, wouldn’t you want to be the one who could control how those cars were driven? Or wouldn’t we want our spouses, children, coworkers, fellow parishioners, politicians, to do things the right way (which, of course, means our way)?
The last temptation the devil gives to Jesus was to throw Himself off the parapet of the Temple, knowing that the Father would rescue Him. I see this as a temptation to control God. The devil is actually telling Jesus to force the Father’s hand. Just think if Jesus gave into this temptation! There would be no surrender to the Father’s will in the Garden, and Jesus would not have given Himself up for us. As sacrilegious as it sounds, we, too, are tempted to force God’s hand. How often do we want God to answer our prayers in the way and the time that we have chosen? Have we ever gone into detail in our prayers, as if we didn’t want to be tricked by a genie who gave us three wishes (“Be careful what you pray for.”)? Sometimes we act as if God couldn’t possibly know what we need! Haven’t we’ve been told, over and over again, that God knows what we need better than we do? But we can still have trouble trusting in God, especially when we’re hurting. We need to remember that we don’t need to try to force God to love us. God never stops loving us, even though we may feel that God is far away from us.
But why surrender control to God at all? There is something in the prayer that Moses gives to the people to say as they offer their first fruits to God in thanksgiving: “My father was a wandering Aramean…;” and “He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm…” It has been my experience that when I do things my way instead of God’s way, I find myself wandering, and it is God who has lifted me up from slavery to sin and to self, and has given me what I need to follow Jesus in love. That is why I need to pass by the temptation to control creation, including other people. I need to pass by the temptation to try to make God do for me what I want, instead of trusting that he will give me what I need.
Fr. Phil, CP