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Temptation of the Lord

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Gospel Commentary March 1, MT 17:1-9

This first Sunday of Lent is the temptation of Jesus in the desert, a powerful scene that shows us both the Lord’s humility and the truth of how we are to resist temptation. 

Before going further, we ought to be clear that when Christ is tempted, his temptation takes place in a slightly different manner than ours. Since Christ does not and cannot desire sin, temptation does not arise spontaneously from within his own heart. The devil may attack him from the outside, but he does not have a place to take hold of in the Lord’s heart.  

In fact, the objects the devil offers to tempt Jesus clue us in to what the Lord intends in this scene. The devil offers to Jesus three things: bread, all the kingdoms of the earth and undeniable proof of divine power. Of course, the devil does not realize who Jesus is, that the one whom he is tempting already owns each of these objects. Christ is already the master of nature, the true king of all peoples and nations, and God incarnate. The devil tempts him with what is already his, and if Christ were to claim any of these, he would be within his rights.  

In foregoing each object of temptation, Jesus makes clear he has willingly become like us in all things but sin, that he has truly taken on a human nature, and will not budge from his solidarity with us. He will win the victory in our nature, without claiming his divine prerogatives. We do well to remember his words when he accepted his arrest in Gethsemane: “Do you not think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”(Mt 26:53) He chooses to submit to human weakness in order to save us by the persuasion of love rather than the terror of conquest, and we should see in his humility the gentle fire of his burning heart.

In addition to revealing his humility, the temptations give Jesus an opportunity to teach and encourage us in our own struggles. In the three temptations, Christians have always seen a microcosm of the whole fight against evil. The devil tempts Christ with desire of the flesh in the form of food, with desire of the eyes in the form of possessions and kingdoms, and with pride of life in the form of forcing God’s hand into public wonders. These three types of temptation encompass all the ways sin can tug at our hearts. Christ defeats each with humble fidelity to the Father alone, and in so doing shows us that a human nature can overcome all these temptations — and exactly how to do so.  

Thus in this brief episode, Christ, by embracing the weakness of human nature, strengthens us with a display of his humble but unconquerable love for us, with example and with instruction. In this Gospel, we come to understand that no matter what our struggles with sin might be, we do not struggle alone, our efforts are not futile and our God stands with us through everything. The Lord makes clear that he does not stand at an aloof distance from our condition and difficulties, but enters into them with us, and grants strength sufficient to triumph over all evil. May we meet our every Lenten discipline with the confidence of that knowledge.

Fr. Rampino is chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020