Reflection: the First Sunday of Lent

Chinese Mass:Every Sunday 2:15 p.m.

Our Lady of the Assumption RC Church, Assumption Priory, Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green E2 9PB (map)

After Mass you are welcome to join the community for a tea gathering

Bible study/sharing every Saturday (2:00-4:00 p.m.) at Notre Dame De France Church, 5 Leicester Place WC2H 7BX (near See Woo Chinese Supermarket, Leicester Square tube station)

Talk and discussion meeting First Monday of every month (4:00-6:00 p.m.) at Notre Dame De France Church

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[Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says: He will put you in his angels’ charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’ Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.]

Through today’s gospel, the Church is presenting to us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Just before this particular text in the gospel, we are presented with the infancy narrative of Jesus’ birth and childhood.  Now, the adult Jesus is ready to start his public life.  Yet, before he embarks on his public life, we are told that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Right from the beginning of his life, Jesus was totally under the influence of the Spirit.  It was through the Spirit that Jesus was conceived … and in today’s gospel, it is clearly under the influence of the same Spirit that Jesus was led out into the wilderness.  The gospel writer, Mathew, also tells us the reason why this happened: so that Jesus could “be tempted by the devil”.  It seems unusual that the Spirit guiding Jesus is leading him in this way.  Usually the Spirit is that which defends and protects those who find themselves in the wilderness and those who are tempted by the devil.  He does not usually lead anyone into the wilderness and neither does he usually lead anyone to be tempted by the devil as well.  Yet, in today’s gospel, the Spirit does precisely such to Jesus…

As we have already touched upon, Jesus’ whole existence was influenced and imbued with the Holy Spirit.  This means that whatever Jesus did or said, it was through the Holy Spirit.  He never did anything without the Spirit because the Spirit was with him and in him.  Taken a step further, we can say therefore that one cannot speak about Jesus without taking into consideration the presence of the Spirit within Him.  But we still have to (or try to) understand why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The wilderness was the place where the Prophets and John the Baptist himself came from …  It was a place where one went to rediscover himself, to meet God, to die… or to have an extraordinary experience.  Jesus’ presence in the wilderness was, we are told, to be tempted by the devil.  Yet in the wilderness, Jesus became victorious over the devil and his temptations because Jesus revealed to the same devil that Jesus is the Son of God.  As already said, Jesus is not a child anymore, but he is now an adult and therefore he himself has to reveal who he is: not to the crowds, but to the devil himself, i.e. the tempter!  This could not be done in the city or in his home town or village.  No one knows him yet.  And this is a matter between Jesus and the devil, the good and the bad …  It had to be done in the “wilderness”, where the Spirit led him to where Jesus was in a forty day fast and therefore preparing himself and making in himself space for God the Father.  Jesus is true God and true Man at the same time and he is having an extraordinary experience with God and with the devil and Jesus shows us very clearly where he stands.

Even the temptations of the devil has significance.  We are told that the devil came to tempt Jesus three times where:

– Jesus was very hungry – i.e. the human weakness and in need of strength…

– In the Holy City in the parapet of the Temple – in Jerusalem and the house of God…

– On a very high mountain – where individuals had their personal encounter with God…

So, even the dynamics of the temptations reveal something else about Jesus … that Jesus is linked not only to the Holy Spirit who is guiding him, but also to God, the Father.  The devil tempts Jesus by starting two of his temptations with a conditional statement: “If you are the Son of God …”.  By starting his conversation with such a statement, the devil is trying to put ‘doubts’ in Jesus’ mind.  However, Jesus answers the devil with what the scripture says and quotes it:

– “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” – Jesus is the mouth of God who came to speak not only in God’s name but as God himself…

– “You must not put the Lord your God to the test” – Jesus is the Lord God being put to the test by the devil…

– “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone” – No one is to be adored and served except God … and this was what Jesus was doing … and what the devil should himself be doing too in Jesus’ presence…

In other words, what is written about God in the Old Testament, is right here, right now, visible with the human eye. We are then told that when the devil left Jesus, the angels appeared and looked after him.  They stayed in the presence of Jesus as they stay in the presence of the Father in heaven.

“Lord, by coming amongst us, you have shown us that you are the Lord our God. Give us the wisdom that we need during this time of lent so that we may recognise you for who you are and accept you as our own Lord and our own God who did not hesitate to suffer the hunger and the thirst and the temptations of the devil for our own sake.  Thank you Lord!”

Fr. Jesmond Pawley, OFM Conv.

(Permission to reproduce on this site by Fr. Jesmond, St. Patrick’s RC Church, Waterloo http://www.stpatrickwaterloo.org.uk/ )

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