BY: Fr. Cosmas Ukadike, C.M.


HOMILY: On this first Sunday in Lent, we find ourselves in the desert with Jesus and the devil. Why must our Lenten journey begin here?

Today’s Gospel as well as all the other Synoptic Gospels; Luke 4, 1-13, Mark 1, 12- 13, and Matthew 4, 1-11, took time to record the accounts of Jesus’ temptation.

St. Luke tells us that after His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit, was led into the desert, where for forty days, he was tempted by the devil.” (4, 1-2). (Notice that he was not tempted after 40 days of fasting, rather, he was tempted for 40 days, that is even while he was fasting the devil was all around him with his distractions). This immediately tells us that Jesus is on a mission. Jesus needed to face God’s primordial enemy at the first action of His public ministry, by making a retreat from the public and, be in a solitary place.

The reason for this is not farfetched as the Knowledge of salvation history helps us answer this question. In the Garden of Eden, a place of sublime delight, God’s enemy came in to tempt Adam and Eve, to let their trust in God’s Fatherhood die (see CCC397). When they believed the serpent’s lies rather than God, they decided to disobey Him. We know the tragic consequence of that disobedience.

When God formed a people for Himself, the Israelites, they also experienced a time of testing. After they had been liberated from slavery in Egypt and had begun their journey home to the Promised Land, they had to sojourn in the desert, where they faced shortages of food and drink, attacks by their enemies, and the temptation to return to Egypt in their hearts by practicing the idolatry they had left behind there. God was teaching His people to trust Him, no matter what. They found this hard to do! Over and over, they, too, let their trust in God’s Fatherhood die. Even when they reached the Promised Land, they refused to take possession of it, fearing its inhabitants more than they feared God. This final disobedience resulted in forty years of wandering in the desert, until the hard-hearted generation got what they wanted—they died before they could ever step foot in Canaan.

The understanding of this history, throws a great light to Jesus’ mission in the desert. First, He was willing to fast for forty days and nights. Adam and Eve fell for a tantalizing piece of fruit; the Israelites accused Moses of trying to kill them by starvation; Jesus willingly denied Himself food, giving the enemy no foothold. When the devil urged Him to “command this stone to become bread,” he knew that in the Sinai wilderness, God told Moses to speak to a rock and make it produce water (see Num 20:8).

The subtle suggestion was, “Moses did it. So can You.” Jesus, however, knew the reason why God allowed His people to experience thirst and hunger. Quoting Scripture, He said, “One does not live on bread alone.” Trust in God keeps a man alive.

The devil tried another approach. Knowing that the Israelites always wanted to substitute a visible god for the invisible One, he tempted Jesus with visible earthly “power and glory” if He exchanged the worship of God for the worship of a lie. Jesus knew the reason why God prohibited idolatry, quoting the exact words of Scripture: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.” Worshipping a lie cannot produce life.

Finally, the devil struck at the core of what can rock a man’s trust in God: “… throw Yourself down from [the parapet of the temple].” In a truly diabolical twist, the devil himself quoted Scripture: “He will command His angels…to guard You.” In other words, “Make God show up. Surely He would never let You suffer.” Adam and Eve did not want to suffer the loss of what the forbidden fruit might do for them. The Israelites did not want to suffer the cost of trusting in a God they couldn’t see. The devil played on man’s conviction that suffering can’t be part of God’s plan for him.

Jesus’ answer silenced the devil, again using the words of Scripture: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Jesus knew that man cannot use suffering to force God’s hand; it cannot become an excuse to let trust in God’s Fatherhood die.

Now we know why the Spirit led Jesus into the desert. In this solitary, haunted place, He faced down the attacks from God’s enemy to which all other human beings had succumbed. In His own Person, He undid our mournful history. Something new was now beginning in the story of man. It was only the beginning, however. The devil “departed from him for a time.” Lent will keep us focused on the drama to follow.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, how thankful I am that You were willing to tangle with and defeat the devil on my behalf.
You have given me the confidence and boldness to confront the enemy headlong.
You have made me realize that temptation itself is not a sin, rather it is my giving in to temptation that becomes a sin.

By your defeat of the devil, you have empowered me to defeat every evil in every disguise or form it takes.
I thank you for bringing me to this Lenten season, I pray for the rekindling of the fire of your Holy Spirit in me, so that as I enter into this desert with you, at the end of the 40 days, I shall come out victorious and dwell in your presence forever.
Have a fruitful week.
Fr. Cosmas Ukadike, C.M.

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