Kuwait City, 7-9.03.2014.
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
Lent has already begun and on this first Sunday the gospel reading describes how Jesus after receiving his baptism was tested in his capacity as Son and Servant of the Father. At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit led him into the desert, where nothing grows, surrounded by sand and dust, with the sun above his head during the day and the stars at night. The desert is a desolated and quiet place, yet ideal in order to be alone with the Father in silent prayer. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. Jesus took full advantage of the quiet solitude of the desert to fast and pray, and thereby prepare himself for his upcoming ministry. On the other hand, the devil took this opportunity to tempt Jesus in the desert in order to prevent his mission from even beginning.
It is important to make a distinction between being tested and temptation. Temptation involves a seduction to evil, an enticement to sin or to taking the wrong path in life. It is the devil who lures people to kill, to steal, to lie, to cheat in school at work and in marriage; to take and sell drugs in order to poison themselves and others; to give in to arrogance and the passions of the flesh. The Greek word used by Matthew in the gospel for temptation, peirazein, is better translated by the verb ‘to test’. Being tested is part of our normal human experience. Students are tested during exams for their knowledge, workers are tested whether they are capable of doing a certain job, there are driving tests and tempered steel is tested to ascertain its strength and resistance to stress and strain. Jesus’ experience in the desert was therefore a test of his strength and ability to withstand difficulties. Temptation therefore understood as a test, is not meant to lead us into sin but to enable us to conquer it. It is not meant to make us bad or to weaken us but to make us good, stronger, purer and finer.
The first temptation of the devil tested Jesus’ use of his divine power as God’s Son to change stones into loaves of bread and thereby play the role of a political and social messiah by feeding the hungry multitudes. Jesus replied by citing Sacred Scripture: It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. The Lord Jesus knew well that God’s word would be his food for life, which he in turn, will offer to a hungry mankind. We can often be tempted to look for ways to make life easier for ourselves and to only seek the material bread we need for our sustenance, thinking that this is enough. However, we quickly feel empty and remain hungry for the true bread, which is the Word of the Lord and the Bread of Life that only God provides.
The second temptation of the devil tested Jesus in his identity as the Son of God. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from the temple). This was a test asking God for a show of power, a sensational sign, so that he would prove himself before others and they would believe in him. Refusing to test God or to force his hand, Jesus’ reply was: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. The circumstances of our lives can also lead us into a similar temptation of seeking signs and proofs from God of his power and identity. Jesus never satisfied the selfish and sensational desires of those who sought signs, but always responded to those who expressed humble faith and trusted in him.
With the third temptation, the devil shows Jesus the various kingdoms of the world and says to him: All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me. Satan here is lying to Jesus by pretending that the kingdoms of the world belong to him, when in fact everything belongs to God. Jesus simply refused to worship his tempter and remained a faithful Son of the Father by saying: Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve. Jesus remained faithful, he did not waver in his loyalty to his mission and was not to be deterred either from living or from dying in fulfillment of his Father’s will. At times we might feel that it is too difficult to follow Christ, that the commandments of love towards God and neighbour are too demanding and that it is much easier to give in to the easier ways of living as dictated by society and human experience. This is ultimately a test of our belief in Christ that is shown by our desire to serve him alone in our lives.
At the outset of Lent, the example of Jesus is a lesson in resistance to evil and of service to the Father. It is a good illustration of how those who wish to serve God will be tested and tempted during their lives, yet they have also been endowed with the Spirit, nourished by Word of God and commissioned for his service. Jesus calls us to holiness while the devil lures us to sin; Jesus offers us freedom while the devil offers slavery; Jesus promises peace and joy with him and eternal bliss in heaven while the devil only provides chaos, sadness and falsehood in this world. As sons and daughters of the Father, we should always be ready to pray and fast in order to resist the devil and be better prepared to serve the Lord.