My Dear Friends,
Excerpts from Father Manny’s Homily on The Temptations of Christ:
“If you are the Son of God…” That is how the Tempter addresses Jesus in the first two temptations. How many times have we addressed Jesus in the same way that Satan does in the desert? “If you are the Son of God, then why is there hunger? If you are the Son of God, then why is my child sick? If you are the Son of God, then why did this tragedy happen?”
Let’s return to that after we unpack this powerful gospel. After his baptism, Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit. This detail is important. As we begin this 40-day desert journey of Lent, may we also be led by the Spirit to where God wants us to be.
But why does Jesus have to go into the desert before he begins his public ministry and ultimately the road that we finish with him on the Cross? Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the temptations of Christ in great detail in his book Jesus of Nazareth. About going into the desert to experience temptation and a confrontation with the devil, Benedict writes: “It is a descent into the perils besetting mankind, for there is no other way to lift up fallen humanity. Jesus has to enter in the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission; he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths, in order to find the “lost sheep,” to bear on on his shoulders, and to bring it home.”
In other words, Jesus needs to experience what we experience: our hunger, our thirst, and our temptations which batter us like a small ship tossed around in high surf. “At the heart of all temptations, as we see here, is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.” This is what the devil is trying to get Christ to do, to put his Father to the test. This is what he does to Adam and Eve in the first reading, and he is successful insofar as he gets them to live a life outside of God.
Now let’s return to the preamble of the devil’s temptations: “If you are the Son of God…:
Christ will hear this again at the foot of the Cross. “Christ is being challenged to establish his credibility by offering evidence for his claims. This demand of proof is a constantly recurring theme in the story of Jesus.”
Pope Benedict continues this point by saying: “And we make this same demand of God and Christ and his Church throughout the whole of history. “If you exist, God, we say, then you’ll just have to show yourself.”
The Lord is tested. He is constantly being asked to give us his ID. The late pope tells us: “we are dealing here with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God, as God, by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything by what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God.”
Friends, it all boils down to our biggest temptation: we don’t really trust God. We’re constantly putting him to the test. But Christ offers us a roadmap today of how to resist this temptation. By being completely obedient to the Father and abandoning himself to the Father’s will by rejecting Satan’s worldly temptations and opting for trust in the things that come from on high. Pope Benedict concludes: “If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One who loves you.”
This Lent, may we learn to trust our Father as Jesus trusted. Then just like Christ, we will be able to resist all the lures and lies of the evil one, and fall carefree into the arms of a Father who will always send his angels to guide us to the other side of the desert of Lent where we don’t question the Lord but come to the conclusion of the centurion at the foot of the cross. Truly this is the son of God!
God bless you all,