When we look at the Gospel passages of the Temptation, such as we heard in today’s Gospel reading, I think we feel a little bit of comfort that we can share with Our Lord the fact that He was tempted the way we are tempted. At the same time, this passage is very instructive for us because it shows us the sins that the Devil uses to snare us.
I’m taking much of this from a former professor of mine at Mundelein Seminary, Fr. Robert Barron. For a couple of years now, he has been doing a series of brief videos on the Internet called Word on Fire. In these videos, Fr. Barron explains some aspect of the Catholic faith, or takes an aspect of the secular culture and explains it through the eyes of the Catholic faith.
Fr. Barron’s most recent video focused on the Three Temptations of Our Lord, which we read in the Gospel passage chosen for this First Sunday in Lent. The point that Fr. Barron made in his reflection on the Temptations is that we can see the sins that the Devil tries to trick us into committing in order to ensnare us.
The Devil’s first temptation of Our Lord was to turn the stones that surrounded them in the desert into bread. This temptation is to make sensate pleasure the center of our lives. This would be excessive use of physical pleasures, such as food and drink, to the point that they replace the focus that we should have on God. There’s no room for God in our lives because these pleasures have filled them up.
The second temptation of Our Lord is being taken up and shown all the kingdoms of the world. The Devil temps him, saying, “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” (Luke 4:7) The temptation is for glory and power, making Jesus the most powerful person in the world.
For many people, this is the strongest temptation. They may be able to handle the physical pleasures, finding little or no temptation in them. Give them power and glory, however, and they will fall for the Devil’s trick every time.
Third temptation finds Our Lord on the parapet, the highest point, of the Temple. The Devil tries to tempt Our Lord to throw Himself off of the parapet, quoting from the Scriptures that the angels will guard and protect Him. First of all, this is a temptation to put God to the test. Secondly, by putting Our Lord on this high place in the temple, which was the center of the society, the Devil was putting Him on the top of society, bringing Him honor and esteem.
Again, for some people, this may be the most dangerous temptation. These people may not want the pleasures of the world, they may not want power, but they seek honor and esteem from those around them. Give them this honor and esteem, and they’ll fall for the trap.
So, how to do we resist these temptations? In the first two readings, we see that we need to confess our faith in God. The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy is a confession of faith of the Israelite people as they are entering into the Promised Land and reaping the first fruits of that land. Confessing their faith that God has lead them to this Promised Land, they turn over their first fruits to Him in gratitude and thanksgiving.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that “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.” (Romans 10:9) This brief statement shows us what we need to do to overcome the temptations of the Devil. We must believe in our hearts the promise of Our Lord that we will be saved and confess that belief publicly through our words and actions in order to overcome the snares and tricks of the Devil. We must also be like the Israelites in the first reading, giving the first fruit of our gifts over to God in gratitude and thanksgiving.
During this Lenten season, may our hearts be open to believing in the promises of Our Lord and may our lives confess that belief, so that we may be saved and help free others from the snares of the Devil.