1st Sunday of Lent, Year C
Previous Years: 2019
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
Three small lessons from the Gospel of Christ’s temptation today.
Lesson number one: When does Satan jump in and try to tempt Jesus? When Jesus is weak from fasting. The evil one is very smart. He knows when we are vulnerable, and he goes after us at exactly these vulnerable times. Sometimes we are weak because we are tired, or hungry, or in pain due to a health issue. Sometimes we are emotionally weak from a relationship conflict, or a hard day at work, or a particularly stressful time. Regardless of what is making us weak, it is then that temptation is going to be most powerful. So what can we do about it?
First, we should try to take care of ourselves. Try to have a regular bedtime so that we are not constantly tired, irritable, and impatient. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, and go to bed. It is also important to eat right, to make sure we are getting enough protein and nutrients so that we do not crash in the early afternoon. And we want to take care of our health, because even though we are all eventually going to have to deal with old age and unexpected health issues, we still might be able to decrease some of the suffering along the way. You would be AMAZED by how many of the sins I am working on with people in the confessional could be significantly improved with a healthy routine and healthy habits.
Second, we should pay attention to our negative emotions. All of us regularly experience negative emotions like stress, loneliness, anger, boredom, and the like, and when we experience them we are far more vulnerable to temptation and sin. As such, there is a ton of power in emotional awareness – that is, in learning to be aware of what emotions we are feeling throughout the day. Because if we can spot a negative emotion as it is forming – even if we cannot immediately remove the source of stress or loneliness or anger – if we can spot these emotions while they are forming, we suddenly have power over them. If we are heading home after a hard day of work, for example, and we know that it has been a hard day of work, then we can prepare ourselves. We can say, “It has been a hard day, so I need to be especially careful so that I do not yell out my spouse or my kids or do something else that I will regret.” If we can catch these emotions early, we can even make a plan and say, for example, that when I get home, I am going to go for a quick run to burn this off, then I’ll be ready for the rest of the evening.
Lesson number two: the Devil can also quote Scripture. The Bible, the Word of God, is the foundation of everything we know about God. The Bible is an incredible gift to us, because it provides us surety and insight about who God is, how he created us, and what he asks of us. Nothing at all about the Bible is in any way evil or to be avoided. The more we sit with the Bible, the better our spiritual life will be. However, we have to be careful to read the Bible properly, and not in an overly simplistic manner.
The Bible is not easy to understand. Yes, the Bible is a gift for every believer, but we should not be so naïve as to think that anyone who can read is also capable of fully understanding the Bible in all its nuance and complexity. The Catholic Church of the Middle Ages is often condemned for generally reserving Bible reading to the educated class, and certainly there were some extremes there that ought to have been avoided. But what happened when the Protestant reformers said every individual’s personal interpretation of the Bible was equally valid? An unending and impossible to count procession of newer and smaller Christian churches splitting from each other and condemning each other because no one could agree on what the Bible says. The Bible requires a trusted interpreter, lest it become a tool of the Devil leading us astray.
The two interpreters of the Bible are the Bible itself and the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. In the Bible itself, it is easy to get caught in contradictions if we only restrict ourselves to a few verses. Consider, for example, the line from our second reading which is often quoted by our Evangelical brothers and sisters: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Does this mean that all we need is intellectual assent to the Lordship of Jesus and our salvation is guaranteed? And yet, the Letter of St. James says, sarcastically, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble,” meaning that mere belief is not enough. What we must realize is that God is too complex to be contained in a handful of versus. He needed to give us the entire Bible, considered as a whole, in order for us to even begin to glimpse the truth of who he is. And the Bible, which reveals God to us, is so complex in itself that it requires the Church, the community of all believers praying over these scriptures through the course of centuries, to protect its proper interpretation and hand it down to future generations. We must read the Bible to get to know God, but we must read the Bible as a whole, united to the community of believers.
Lesson number three: Knowing who we are is our greatest defense against temptation and sin. A friend recently pointed out to me that the first word of the first temptation is “if”. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus and the Devil know exactly who Jesus is. Satan could have said, “You are the son of God, so command this stone to become bread,” but he didn’t. Jesus was weak, and the Devil wanted to introduce doubt, maybe force Jesus to question his own identity and strength. But Jesus does not doubt himself or his Father’s goodness. He knows God will take care of him, so he is able to resist these temptations.
The same is true for us. If we can remember that we are beloved sons and daughters of God, then we also will have powerful defenses against temptation. A child who trusts her parents to take care of her can run around feeling happy and secure. A child who does not trust her parents may act out, constantly trying to get her parents’ attention, so that she can know that they see her and are going to take care of her. This is how we are with God. If we can learn to believe that we are God’s beloved children and that he is going to take care of us, it is easy for us to live our lives well without sin or temptation. But if we constantly doubt God’s love or care for us, if we doubt our identity as his beloved children, then we are going to act out to try to get his attention, maybe sinning, maybe demanding that he give us a sign, maybe harming ourselves to see if he will take care of us.
My friends, the Lord did not have to go out into the desert. He did not have to submit to these temptations. But in doing so, he revealed his humanity deeply to us. He showed us that he is fully human, that he also faced temptation, and that we are not alone in our human struggles. As Lent continues, the Lord is going to show us also that he suffers. All of this is so that we never feel abandoned or alone. Whatever we experience as human beings, Jesus also experienced. He knows our struggles, and he loves us through them.
¿Qué usa el diablo para tentar a Jesús hoy? Él usa las cuatro formas falsas de felicidad que hemos discutido antes.
La primera tentación es la tentación del placer. Jesús está increíblemente hambriento. Él es muy incómodo. ¿Entonces el diábolo le preguntan por qué se siente incómodo? ¿Por qué no convierte esas piedras en pan? ¿Por qué no come y se siente bien otra vez? Jesús responde diciendo que vive por más que el pan, que vive por cada palabra que sale de la boca de Dios.
Todos nos enfrentamos a esta tentación del placer. Muchos de nosotros elegimos, por ejemplo, tener relaciones sexuales fuera del matrimonio, lo que viola la ley de Dios. Otros elegimos beber en exceso, consumir drogas o comer más de lo que necesitamos. O vivir de una fiesta a otra. Somos tentados a vivir nuestras vidas como vidas de placer, sin pensar primero en las enseñanzas del Señor. Pero el placer no nos hará felices, sólo el Señor nos hará felices. Jesús lo sabe, y eso le permite resistir al diablo.
La segunda tentación es por el poder, la riqueza y la gloria. El diablo le muestra a Jesús todos los reinos del mundo, todo el poder y la riqueza y la gloria que está disponible en este mundo. Después de todo, Jesús ha venido a salvar al mundo, así que, si estuviera a cargo de todos los reinos del mundo, si tuviera toda la riqueza y la fama del mundo, podría hacer mucho bien, ¿verdad? Pero no, Jesús sabe que se supone que debemos adorar a Dios y solo a Dios.
No es por nada que el diablo diga que todos los reinos del mundo le han sido entregados. Vale la pena prestar atención a eso. Cuando la gente se aleja de la religión, la política acaba convirtiéndose en su dios. Se obsesionan con las noticias, con los partidos políticos, con las marchas y los derechos y las leyes y las protestas y todo lo demás. Pero estas cosas pertenecen al diablo. Podemos y debemos trabajar por la justicia, ciertamente, pero siempre debemos recordar que este mundo pasa y será destruido al final de los tiempos. Si nos enfocamos solo en este mundo, nos estamos enfocando en las cosas del diablo. Si nos enfocamos en el próximo mundo, si nos enfocamos en Dios y solo en Dios, entonces no seremos tentados por el poder o la riqueza, los cuales pasarán. La gloria que proviene de la fama y el reconocimiento pasará. Sólo Dios permanecerá. Sólo Dios nos hará felices.
¿Cuántas veces somos tentados por el poder? Queremos estar a cargo. Queremos tener el control. Tal vez queremos controlar a nuestro cónyuge o a nuestra familia, y los dominamos, y les quitamos su dinero o su auto. Tal vez los dominamos con celos locos. ¿Y cuántas veces somos tentados por el dinero? Ganamos más y más dinero para poder comprar casas más bonitas, coches más bonitos, teléfonos más bonitos y ropa más bonita. Está bien no ser pobre. Está bien comprar cosas. Pero tenemos que prestar atención a nuestros corazones, porque a veces el mejor auto o la mejor ropa nunca son lo suficientemente buenos y seguimos buscando más y más y más. ¿Y cuántas veces somos tentados por la gloria? ¿Cuántos de nuestros niños dicen que quieren ser famosos cuando sean grandes? Adoramos a las celebridades y estrellas del internet. Estamos enseñando a nuestros hijos a hacer lo que sea necesario para ser famosos. Les estamos enseñando a abandonar a Dios para ser famosos.
La tentación final de Jesús es la tentación de dudar y probar a Dios. El diablo le está diciendo a Jesús que él puede demostrar, a sí mismo ya todos los que adoran en el Templo, que él es el Hijo de Dios, porque si salta del Templo, Dios lo atrapará. Pero Jesús confía en quién es él y confía en quién es Dios y no necesita poner a Dios a prueba.
¿Cuántas veces ponemos a Dios a prueba? Cuantas veces le exigimos algo a Dios y luego cuando no cumple con nuestras demandas, lo abandonamos o dudamos de él o le gritamos. Dios no nos debe nada. Dios no tiene que escucharnos cuando hacemos rabietas como niños. Qué arrogante de nuestra parte poner a prueba a Dios. Dios nos ha dicho que nos ama infinita y completamente. Dios nos ha prometido que cuidará de nosotros. ¿Por qué no le creemos? ¿Por qué tiene que cuidar de nosotros exactamente cómo queremos? Dios es Dios y nosotros no. Finalmente, observe que el diablo dice dos veces, “Si eres el Hijo de Dios…” El diablo quiere que Jesús dude de su identidad como el Hijo de Dios. El diablo quiere que todos nosotros dudemos de nuestra identidad como hijos e hijas amados de Dios. El diablo nos miente y nos dice que no somos amados, que no somos cuidados, que Dios nos dará la espalda. Pero esto no es cierto. Somos amados hijos e hijas de Dios. Dios nos ama perfectamente, y no hay nada que podamos hacer para que Dios deje de amarnos. Si crees esto, si crees que Dios te ha adoptado como su propio hijo o hija, entonces serás fuerte frente al diablo. Los hijos e hijas de Dios no tienen nada que temer del maligno.
Español (Original English)
What does the devil use to tempt Jesus today? He uses the four false forms of happiness that we have discussed before.
The first temptation is the temptation to pleasure. Jesus is incredibly hungry. He is very uncomfortable. So the devils asks him why he is uncomfortable? Why does he not just turn those stones into bread? Why does he not just eat and feel good again? Jesus responds by saying that he lives for more than bread – that he lives for every word that comes from the mouth of God.
All of us face this temptation to pleasure. So many of us choose, for example, to have sex outside of marriage, which violates the law of God. Others of us choose to drink to excess, or to do drugs, or to eat more than we need. Or to live from one party to the next. We are tempted to live our lives as lives of pleasure, without first thinking about the teachings of the Lord. But pleasure will not make us happy, only the Lord will make us happy. Jesus knows this, and that allows him to resist the devil.
The second temptation is to power and wealth and glory. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, all of the power and wealth that is available in this world. Jesus has come to save the world, after all, so if he was in charge of every kingdom of the world, if he had all the wealth and fame of the world, he could do so much good, right? But no, Jesus knows that we are supposed to worship God and God alone.
It is worth nothing that the devil says that all of the kingdoms of the world have been given over to him. That is worth paying attention to. When people walk away from religion, politics ends up becoming their god. They obsess about the news, about political parties, about marches and rights and laws and protests and everything else. But these things belong to the devil. We can and should work for justice, certainly, but we always need to remember that this world is passing away and will be destroyed at the end of time. If we focus only on this world, we are focusing on the things of the devil. If we focus on the next world, if we focus on God and God alone, then we will not be tempted by power or wealth, both of which will pass away. The glory that comes from fame and recognition will pass away. Only God will remain. Only God will make us happy.
How many times are we tempted by power? We want to be in charge. We want to be in control. Maybe we want to control our spouse or our family, and we dominate them, and we take away their money or their car. Maybe we dominate them with insane jealousy. And how many times are we tempted by money? We earn more and more and more money, so that we can buy nicer houses and nicer cars and nicer phones and nicer clothes. It is okay not to be poor. It is okay to buy things. But we have to pay attention to our hearts, because sometimes the better car or the better clothes are never good enough and we just keep looking for more and more and more. And how many times are we tempted by glory? How many of our children say that they want to be famous when they grow up? We worship celebrities and internet stars. We are teaching our children to do whatever they have to in order to be famous. We are teaching them to abandon God in order to be famous.
The final temptation of Jesus is the temptation to doubt and test God. The devil is telling Jesus that he can prove, to himself and to everyone worshipping in the Temple, that he is the Son of God, because if he jumps off the Temple, God will catch him. But Jesus is confident in who he is and he is confident in who God is and he does not need to put God to the test.
How many times do we put God to the test? How many times do we demand something from God and then when he does not meet our demands, we abandon him or doubt him or yell at him. God does not owe us anything. God does not have to listen to us when we throw tantrums like children. How arrogant of us to test God. God has told us that he loves us infinitely and completely. God has promised us that he will take care of us. Why do we not believe him? Why does he have to take care of us in exactly the way we want? God is God and we are not. Finally, notice that the devil twice says, “Si eres el Hijo de Dios…” The devil wants Jesus to doubt his identity as the Son of God. The devil wants all of us to doubt our identities as beloved sons and daughters of God. The devil lies to us and tells us that we are not loved, that we are not taken care of, that God will turn his back on us. But this is not true. We are beloved sons and daughters of God. God loves us perfectly, and there is nothing we can do to make God stop loving us. If you believe this, if you believe that God has adopted you as his own son or daughter, then you will be strong in the face of the devil. Sons and daughters of God have nothing to fear from the evil one.