Weekend of 5 March 2017

1st Sunday of Lent | Year A

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:

Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:
He will put you in his angel’s charge, 
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says;
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For Scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
 

Reflection

As Lent begins, we hear about Jesus being tempted to work a miracle to satisfy his hunger; to take an extraordinary risk with his physical safety; and to renounce his Father in exchange for power and wealth.  Traditionally these three situations are seen as temptations to vices such as pride and rebellion against God. They also contain another layer of lessons. 

In the first temptation the devil tempts Jesus to satisfy his bodily hunger immediately. Jesus makes the same decision he has made for the previous forty days and nights, which is to delay gratification of his need for food and to continue to seek spiritual sustenance.
 
In the second temptation Jesus is tempted to take a huge risk to his physical safety by throwing himself off the Temple parapet. He chooses instead to exercise responsibility in the care of his physical body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
 
In the third temptation the devil offers Jesus every form of power and wealth available in the world.  He chooses his spiritual well-being in the form of his relationship with his Father over material goods and power. 
 
The three temptations offer us a template for Lent and our preparation for the great feasts at its end. Taking opportunities for actions that are forms of self-discipline are valuable. But when those actions also benefit others, they have an added dimension.
 
In the first temptation Jesus delayed gratification. We can put off doing something which gives us pleasure. We can also put off doing something which gives us pleasure in order to do something which gives pleasure to someone else, or we can attend to someone else’s needs ahead of our own.  We can delay gratification as Jesus did, by fasting, and that is a valuable spiritual discipline. We can also give any money saved to people in need, which adds further benefit to our action.
 
In the second temptation Jesus chose not to take a risk with his physical safety. In Lent we can examine and work on those things which are a threat to our physical safety or well-being (and sometimes to others), for example, driving too fast, eating too much or foods which are not good for our health, smoking, lack of exercise etc. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and need respect and care. When we care for ourselves we are also benefiting those who love us and who worry about our well-being.
 
In the third temptation Jesus chose spiritual well-being over power and wealth.  Lent may be a time to examine whether our work (and even ambition) is pushing our spiritual well-being into the background. We may not be pursuing power and wealth, but the demands of our workplace or our immediate or wider family may be impinging on our spiritual “health”. The sense of unease and pressure this can generate – even a “martyr mentality” – can harm more than just ourselves, it can harm our relationships.
 
The three temptations are three pointers to our three truly important relationships: with God, with others and with ourselves.  When these relationships are out of balance or one of them has atrophied, then we have work to do, and Lent is a great time for this type of introspection and action.