Looks like everyone cleaned their foreheads from the other day. That day of fasting and being reminded that we are dust, and that same dust awaits our return. But before we arrive back into dust – no time soon, I hope – we need to talk about a few temptations.
The first one, on the surface, is about food. Command stones to turn into bread. What’s the big deal? “I know you’re very hungry right now Jesus. You just spent 40 days not eating, and I know those stones look more like bagels with cream cheese.”
Why is this temptation so horrendous? What’s so bad about telling Jesus to turn rocks into food? Doesn’t the devil want Jesus’ appetite satiated? This is the problem with looking at the surface only. There’s usually a motive, and from the devil there’s always a motive.
Our Lord comes to us, not for any purpose to satisfy his physical needs. Rocks to bread satisfies the physical hunger, leading to more hunger about 5 hours later. Lent leads us to satisfy our spiritual dimension, which is why I highly recommend spiritual reading above and beyond what we may or may not already do. Pick a holy thought from that person’s brain, and make it our own. For example, the day after Lent came this observation from one of our spiritual books: “Only one day after the start of Lent, and already the resolve of yesterday takes a hit from the challenges and chores of day-to-day life …. I need to make a sincere commitment to the practices of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.” Lent is not about tailgating, or backyard cookouts, or even, dare I say, Wright’s Chicken Farm.
Jesus does away with this seemingly unharmful temptation because, first, the devil doesn’t tell God what to do and succeed. He’s still living in his fantasy world of thinking he’s in control, when the Lord is, always and forever. And second, our Lord’s food must match up with our daily diet, being the food that endures to eternal life. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, works of mercy, Eucharist, God’s word. That’s the daily diet of a Catholic.
Nazareth is in the rearview mirror of Jesus’ life. Meaning, Mary the Mother is not cooking her Son’s meals anymore. The rocks into bread temptation says to Jesus, “Why don’t you go back to Nazareth and be fed by your mother. Just be nice and comfortable there, stay there Jesus, die there too, and I’ll take care of things here on earth.” Jesus responds, “No thanks, Satan. My food is to do the will of my Father.” That’s our everyday food.
The second temptation is much more serious on the surface; the worshipping temptation. Fortunately for us and our redemption, Christ has not even the tiniest desire to share his worship. Even though many adults today – and always – fall for this temptation because of oversized egos and inflated self-praise, Jesus remains firm, and some of us hate it.
What’s hated here is that God doesn’t share with us – or any fallen or non-fallen angels – even a fraction of worship that is transferred to sinful humanity or the angelic world. “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” This temptation more than the other two drives many egomaniacs crazy, because they dare think they’re worthy of being worshipped. And here we have the devil working hard at getting God to transfer all of the worship owed to Christ, and is rightfully his, to this pitiful, wayward angel who made the eternal mistake of rejecting God.
Lent for us is a continual transformation of being rid of any worship of any person, and the devil, and staying centered in Christ. Because the Word is near you, in your mouth in your consuming the Eucharist, and in your heart in the Spirit.
And the third temptation could actually be the most human for many of us; testing God. “Why are you doing things that way, Lord? That’s not my plan, how can it be yours?” The urge to test God and tell Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the temple is symbolic for us controlling God, even to the point if it means his death in our lives. This urge is always before us. The urge we can have that commands the Lord to conform to our weak human wills and desires.
But Christ won’t throw himself off the hanger, allowing ourselves to become the devil. The result would be us making up our own religion, satisfying our ego, and become the boss of our own little world. We can have that if we want, but it isn’t Christian.
Lent, for us, when practiced faithfully with effort and time, this holy season allows us the opportunity to further conform our lives to God’s plan. To see him as he is, and ourselves as we are. The devil in this temptation speaks like he has no chance at being one with his Creator again. Which is true for Satan, but that’s not so for us. The devil is attempting something in temptation number 3 that we must never do ourselves; to create an eternal separation from our Beloved. Some folks do so, may we not be one of them. Our joy is realized in conforming our lives to God’s will, and not putting the Lord, you God, to the test.
Rocks to bread; false personal worship; and diving off parapets. Three spiritual dimensions to avoid, knowing who is at the center of them. Replaced by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, knowing who is at the heart of those. Christ the Lord.