Enduring temptation with Jesus

02-18-2018HomiliesFr. Chad King

Our Gospel today is Mark’s version of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. You undoubtedly noticed how short Mark’s version is, and in case you zoned out- it’s already over. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t explain each particular temptation and how Jesus overcomes them; instead, Mark simply and succinctly states: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts, and the angels administered to him”. So, it is this 1 verse I will preach on, with short tie-ins from the other readings. But before you start getting excited, thinking that because it’s only covering 1 verse then it’ll be a shorter homily- Sorry to get your hopes up, but you have to know me by now, right? This is a short, but such a jam-packed verse, that although I could, I won’t have time to explain the fullness of its meaning in this one homily. But I promise you that I will apply my homily to Lent and our spiritual lives, so hopefully it’ll be well worth your attention and reflection.

Mark is the only Gospel that says that Jesus was among the wild beasts and the angels administered to him.  The natural question is, why?  What does it mean that Jesus was among the wild beasts?  Hopefully you remember Genesis chapter 2 in which Adam was in the garden with all the “beasts of the field” and he named them, but none of them were a suitable partner for him.  And of course, we know what happened in Genesis chapter 3- Adam and Eve succumb to Satan’s temptation and sinned.  And if you’re curious about the purpose of stating that Angels administered to Jesus- Ancient Jewish writings tell us that Rabbi’s believed that Angels were administering to Adam and Eve in the garden and bringing them food to eat.  Therefore, what Mark is alluding to by stating that Jesus was among the wild beasts and Angels administered to him is that Jesus is the new Adam.  Adam’s succumbing to Satan’s temptation and original sin and consequently the garden being turned into a desert, as well as suffering and death being brought upon the whole human race.  We know this part of the story so well. 

In addition, we need to look at the number 40, which in the Bible is symbolic for a period of testing, of temptation, and purification.  As our 1st reading reveals, God sending the rain for 40 days and 40 nights and thus sending the flood, was God’s way of re-creating the earth and testing Noah’s faithfulness and patience.  Likewise, 40 also represents the 40-year journey to the promised land of the Israelites- in which their faithfulness to God was tested- and often failed- and thus also needing to be purified of their idolatry.  It is for this reason that Mark joyfully writes that Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert 40 days to be tempted by Satan.  It is God’s will that Jesus be tempted by Satan.  For by doing so, Jesus is going to take the temptation and original sin of Adam, take the wasteland desert the earth had become, and the testing and failure of the Israelite’s faithfulness upon himself.  And unlike sin and death of Adam and the Israelites, Jesus, though tempted by Satan, is not going to fall into sin but will bring about life for the world.

And so for us, we begin this 40 day journey of Lent also to be tested and tempted.  The question is: are we going to continue to fall into Satan’s temptations and sin, are we going to stay faithful- with Jesus?  This Lent are we going to succumb to the temptation of Satan to not pray, to not give alms, to not fast?  Are we going to enter into this journey just half-heartedly going through the motions, or are we going to be driven by the Spirit to, with Jesus, to defeat the tempting and testing of the Devil?

The fact that it was God’s will that Jesus be tempted by Satan, that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus to the desert, teaches us three things. First, that Jesus was tempted for our sake.  So that we can know and have strength to not fall into sin Satan’s lies and deceits.  Even though we, due to Adam’s original sin, are inclined to fall, we too, because of Jesus, have the grace not to give into the temptations, we do not have to sin.  However, to not fall, we have to let God into the temptation.  So often I hear people talk as if, and sometimes I also slip into this thinking myself, that the battle in the temptation is their own, and that they have to be strong.  No, not really, before we are strong, we ourselves have to be weak.  We first need to be fully God’s and have the humility to turn to God in prayer, to depend on God- He is the one that makes us strong.  Therefore, when we feel the first suggestion or nudge to sin, our first instinct should be to pray right then and ask God to give us the grace to not give in to the temptation and pressure.  And likewise, even if you have already fallen into sin, bring God into it.  So, for example, if you struggle and have fallen into the sin of Pornography, before you leave the computer, bring God into that weakness.  Call to mind and heart in prayer that this sin really doesn’t bring satisfaction or happiness, but in fact it makes me feel more lonely or worse about myself.  So, Lord strengthen me and give me a disgust and hatred for this sin- then turn off the computer or change the site.  The fact that the Spirit drove Jesus to the desert to be tempted by Satan means that we do not have to fight our temptations by ourselves, in fact, we can only win if we fight with Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus’ temptation teaches us that human life on earth is a life of warfare, and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. As Scripture tells us, we have to be prepared for temptation, for it is written: “When you enter God’s service, prepare your soul for an ordeal” (Sirach 2:1). That’s really important. Maybe you’re a new convert, maybe you’re a new catechumen, about to become Catholic. Maybe you’re somebody who’s coming back to the Church after a long time being away. Maybe you’re turning away from a life of sin, going back to confession this Lent and getting back into your spiritual life. That's great, those are all great, but don't be surprised if after that conversion things get tough.  Don't be surprised if you start to face temptations and tribulations and sufferings that are even more intense than when you weren’t trying to live a life of holiness, because Christian life is a battle.  It's a spiritual battle and the devil is not going to lay off just because you’ve become a Christian or just because you’ve joined the Catholic Church or just because you’ve gone back to confession after 20, 10, 5 years or however long. To the contrary, if Jesus is the model for us, after he’s baptized, he’s immediately driven out into the desert and the testing begins, the battle begins. It's not less intense, it's more intense.

Third lesson Christ desires to impress upon us by his own example is that we should not lightly expose ourselves to temptation but should avoid the near occasion of sin.  If the spiritual life is a battle, we also need to be prudent about that, and take our battle seriously. We need to not unnecessarily expose ourselves to temptations that might cause us to fall. Instead, we need to pray more. We need to watch, keep vigilant when the temptations come. We need to increase the practices prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Frequent the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession during this season of Lent; a very powerful sacrament for doing spiritual battle against sin and against temptation.

Therefore, every Lent is a reminder to us that this life is a battle, and that we’re not home yet. We’re still in the spiritual desert.   The question is- at the end of this 40 days battle will we be deeper in the sin and death of the desert, or will we be experiencing the new life God is offering us?