March 30, 2021

Confronting Temptation Like Jesus

We have a sneaky tendency to make Lent about us.  Whether we successfully embraced our Lenten penances or failed every day, it is easy for us to casually shift the focus from Jesus to our own efforts.  While it can be helpful to look back and see how we journeyed this Lent, we should remain vigilant against overly self-indulgent reflections.  If we faithfully followed the practices and penances we set for ourselves on Ash Wednesday, we should remember we are desperately in need of a Savior.  If we failed miserably, we should remember we are desperately in need of a Savior.  

As we move through Holy Week, we should do so with our eyes fixed on following Jesus and imitating His example as much as possible.  Before starting His public ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to fast and pray.  Near the end of His time fasting, we see the devil trying to tempt Jesus when He is at His weakest.  As ‘little Christs’ we should recognize that it is often near the end of a particular journey that we will be most likely to yield to temptation.  

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”  (Mt 4:3)

The devil is continually trying to fix Christ’s attention on Himself.  Christ is continually fixing His attention on the Lord.  In the midst of hunger, the devil is provoking Jesus to forget His Father and seek to simply provide for Himself.  Instead of waiting for God to provide, Jesus is being tempted to reach out and take what He desires.  

He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Mt. 4:4)

In a spirit of docility, Jesus proclaims that even more than food He is reliant upon every word from God.  His response reminds us that we are to keep our eyes fixed on our provident Father, trusting that He will always grant what we need.

Lord, teach us to trust that You will provide.

The temptations continue:

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” (Mt. 4: 5-6)

Jesus is tempted to prove that this God whose words He hungers for is worthy of such trust.  The taunting of the devil continues with that repeated phrase ‘If you are the Son of God” and will later be found on the lips of the crowd at Calvary calling for Jesus to prove His Sonship by coming down from the cross.  

Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Mt. 4:7)

In a spirit of trustful surrender, Jesus chooses to believe that God hears Him, even without asking the Father to tangibly prove it.  Truly confident of His role as the Son of God, He is unwavering in accepting the love of the Father without grand gestures.

Lord, teach us to believe in Your love for us.

The final temptation in the desert follows.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” (Mt. 4: 8-9)

So clearly contrary to what God would want, how could the devil think that the Son of God would choose to worship the evil one?  The promise and allure of worldly power and success seems an obvious affront to the humility of Jesus.  Yet even in the penitential season of Lent, we can get caught up in our personal successes and victories over temptation while overlooking that it is all because of God’s grace.  

Jesus responds to the devil’s final temptation with a decisive blow.

At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Mt. 4: 10)

In a spirit of utter humility, Jesus accepts the rejection, suffering, and death that He will undergo.  It will look like failure, not victory.  Sometimes it will seem like that for us, too.  Following the Lord might look foolish.  Yet we should respond with wholehearted worship of the Lord.  Especially when we cannot see the grand plan, we should yield to the Father’s will.  As we move through Holy Week and into Easter, may we continually focus our attention more on the Lord and His works and less on our failures or successes.

Lord, teach us to worship You above all else.

Trish Irvine is a pursuer of the good, the true, and the beautiful. As a high school theology teacher with a penchant for reading and writing, she has numerous encounters with each. Trish has a desire to help others encounter the Lord through a recognition of His presence in the ordinary. Her degree is from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, but her home is the South Dakota prairie.

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