The devil's attempts to make Jesus fall have direct relevance in our lives the next 40 days
This Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent (Year C) and it is time to hear the Church’s annual reminder of Jesus Christ’s three temptations.
The Church doesn’t put this at the beginning of Lent just because it is a great story – she does it because it is directly relevant to our lives each Lent, when we face the same three temptations.
Our first temptation each Lent is the temptation not to fast.
We’ve all been there. We gave up alcohol, or social media, or our favorite food. But Lent is long — or a particular day is stressful — and we think, “What’s the point anyway, giving up such a small thing?”
We think, “It doesn’t matter. It’s just one,” or “It’s just one hour,” or “It’s just one day” — or one weekend, or one week.
Jesus faced the same temptation, and when he faced it down he reminded us why it is important to fast.
First, we fast so that we will not be slaves to our appetites — because we are putty in the devil’s hands when we can’t control ourselves.
Second, we fast to remind us who our real master is — and where our real happiness lies.
“One does not live on bread alone,” Jesus tells us. Our happiness is not the temporary, partial happiness of a full stomach — the happiness a skunk gets when it finds a half-full sour-cream tub in the garbage. It is the forever, deep happiness of uniting ourselves with God — the happiness a monk gets at morning prayer.
Our second Lenten temptation is the temptation not to pray.
The devil shows Christ all the kingdoms in the world to try to distract him from worshiping God. Christ refuses.
For us, he doesn’t have to go to those great lengths. All he has to show us is our smartphone. Or a project that needs to get done at Mass time. Or a new series on Netflix when we were planning to say the Rosary.
In these moments, we should tell him, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” – not your curiosity, not your busyness, not your laziness, but him.
And the only way to serve God truly is to actually talk to him — to pray.
The third temptation is against almsgiving — the temptation to presume God will take care of everything.
Last, the devil takes Jesus up to the top of the temple and tells him to throw himself down, since God will save him. Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
He refuses to fall into presumption. Do we?
We know God wants to save us. Do we spend our life in a kind of comfortable free-fall expecting him to come to our rescue? Or do we do the one thing that he said would save us: Serving those in need?
Only the tough slog of loving God in real service to others — feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, comforting the afflicted — will win in the end. Don’t presume otherwise.
Together, these are all one temptation: The temptation to go through the motions this Lent.
In the second reading, St. Paul says “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart … For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”
The word is near, especially in Lent. Jesus is standing by, waiting for us to reach out, ready to unite to us and transform us.
But it isn’t automatic. It is a painful process of denying our ego, pushing through to him in prayer, and giving our heart to others.
To find motivation, do what Moses did.
In the first reading Moses enjoins all Israel to remember how God has saved them and to give the Lord his due. This is exactly what we should do.
Face God on the altar this Sunday, and tell him that you want to recommit to him.
Remind him, and yourself, that your family would be lost without him.
Remind him, and yourself, that by uniting with the Church, you have broken free from oppression.
Remind him, and yourself, how grateful you are that he has led you into a land flowing with the milk and honey of the sacraments.
Offer him your efforts this Lent and say, “I have now brought you the firstfruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me.”
Then, like Moses, “having set them before the Lord … bow down in his presence.”
It is his strength that we rely on to face Lent’s temptations, and he does not disappoint.