Lent is one of those things that people tend to go one way or the other on. I think a lot of people like the thought of Lent but not the reality of it. What I mean by that is that I think a lot of people, even those who “observe” Lent, miss the point. Generally, people “give something up” for Lent and those things are usually kind of small things, like chocolate or social media or soda or something.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing those things, I feel like that kind of misses the point of Lent. I mean, you can give those things up but if you’re not also using the season of Lent to mortify your flesh, repent of your sins, give alms and prepare for Easter, then you’re just dieting. Discipline is a good thing, but we also must make sure that we’re doing these things for the right reasons.
Which takes us to our readings for today,
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11.
We’ll start with our gospel reading. Jesus had a kind of Lenten experience in our gospel reading today. He was “led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.” I remember reading that and thinking, “Well, that’s not very nice.” Aside from not being nice, it just seems, at first glance, to not make much sense. We might think, “You went out to the desert just to be tempted by the devil? Why would you do that?” Well, there is a why and we’ll get to that.
It should be noted that verse 2 tells us that Jesus had fasted for forty days and nights (that’s a really long fast) and, the sort of tongue in cheek, “afterwards he was hungry.” Ya think?! If this were you and you’d just been fasting for 40 days, how weak would you be? How ready to compromise so you could just eat? If it were me, I’d be like, “Whatever, just give me a cheeseburger. I’ll do anything.”
The tempter comes to Jesus and, first, attacks His identity. “If thou be the Son of God…” I think this is one of the most common attacks of Satan. He attacks at the core of who we are, exactly as he does with Jesus here, because that’s where we are the weakest. And he says to us, just as he does with Jesus, “It’s okay. Just this once; just do this one thing. It’ll be okay.”
Jesus rebuffs the tempter by standing on the written Word of God, ironically quoting that man lives by “every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.”
But that’s not enough. The tempter comes again, attacking at the core of identity again. And again, he says, “Just do this once; just do this one thing. It’ll be okay.”
Jesus’ response is interesting. Look at verse 7. He says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Note that Jesus is clearly claiming to be God by saying this. He is God, even over the devil. I wonder if sometimes we believe that God is God over everything except the devil, as if God can’t really stop the devil from doing whatever the devil wants. I assure you that is not the case. God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) is clearly in control, even if we don’t fully understand that.
Back to the text. Still, it’s not enough. The tempter comes back again at Jesus, trying to get Jesus to do what he himself had done; trade eternal glory for temporal pleasure and pride. He says, “All this can be yours. Just give in to your desire for the pleasures of the world. Give in to pride. Just do this once; just do this one thing. It’ll be okay.”
I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. This is how Satan attacks us also. Just do this once; just do this one thing. It’ll be okay. Typically, temptations don’t start out in a spectacular way. Typically, it starts with something small like:
Sleep in a bit more, don’t get up and pray.
Watch that TV show that is morally corrupt, it’s just a show after all.
It’s okay to have that extra drink or two, you’ve earned it.
That word isn’t a big deal, everyone says it.
And so on…
And when we give in to the little things, one by one they add up and the slope becomes slippery. Once we make one moral compromise, it becomes so much easier the next time. The enemy hasn’t changed his tactics since our first parents in the garden. He wants us to do what he himself did. He wants us to focus on the now and trade eternal glory for temporal pleasure and pride.
Now for the good news and the why.
Jesus did this in order that we may also stand firm in His triumph. Jesus had to experience every temptation so that, in triumphing over all temptation, He could both show us the way and walk that way for us. Where Adam (and us) failed, Jesus has succeeded (see 1 Corinthians 15:45-48).
This is exactly what the Apostle Paul is reminding us of in our Epistle reading. “In the day of salvation have I helped thee..” Jesus has conquered. We will have trials to undergo (as did St. Paul). Perhaps those trials will be hard ones. But Jesus has prevailed and, if we are in Him by faith, we will also prevail. Jesus has prevailed. And so must we, by clinging to Him.
How do we do that? How do we cling to Him so that we have confidence in the time of trial? Consider the Gradual/Tract text for today from Psalm 90:1-7, 11-16.
“He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob.” (italics mine)
He is our protector and refuge.
He is our God, in whom we trust.
He has delivered us from the snare of the hunter of souls.
He has overshadowed us with His might and gathered us under His wings.
He has saved us from the arrows, the darkness, the invasion of our souls and even of the “noonday devil.”
Thousands may fall; our very civilization may crumble but it shall not come nigh us.
He has given His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.
We, with Christ, shall walk upon the asp and glory in His crushing of the serpent’s head. Of whom shall we be afraid?
We that hope in Christ will be delivered.
He has protected those who know His Name.
He will hear us.
He is with us in tribulation.
He will deliver us.
He will fill us with length of days in His presence for all eternity for He has shown us His salvation!
Oh, brothers and sisters! As we enter Lent, let us do penance. Let us fast and weep for our sins. Let us throw ourselves on the mercy of God and His Christ and trust in Him.
For He has overcome!