Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. Matthew 4:1-2
My earliest recollection of this text was when I was about seven. My catechism teacher explained that Jesus was tested so that He could be ready to show that He was worthy of His calling. Life was simpler then. I believed everything the adults said. When I was a teenager, my parish priest upset this simple order of things. He turned around and asked us; “Why did Jesus needed to be tested? After all, He was the perfect Son of God. Could God the Father doubted the capabilities of His own Son?” None of us could answer him. I am not even sure if he gave us an answer. If he did, I did not remember it, but the question was permanently imprinted in my mind. Later on in life, I had a good friend who was a former Buddhist monk. He was much older than me and we often had lively talks about religion. One day the subject of the temptations of Jesus came up. Being a non-Christian, he had no obligation to believe the traditional teachings. He found it hard to comprehend a God would need to test anyone and thought that such a god was truly ungracious god.
Today, I read this text with homeless and abandoned children and teens in mind. Some are too young to understand why they are living in the streets. They think that they made the choice to be homeless. However, such a choice shouldn’t be given to any child. The older ones have grown accustomed to their lot and they can’t imagine a life beyond the streets. None wanted to be homeless in the first place. It just happened. It would be strange for me to read this story and tell them that God tested Jesus. They might wonder about themselves; “Are our sufferings and abandonment a test from God?” I hope that they don’t ask this question. I don’t have an answer for it. Nevertheless, the season of Lent always begins with this text. It forces me to ask myself this question before the children and teens have a chance.
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. James 1:13
I loved my catechism teacher but she was wrong. My parish priest then was trying to make us to figure this out by ourselves. God is not in the business of testing people. The temptations of Jesus were not a test. They are merely his confrontation with reality. Jesus was bringing a new and life-transforming message to the world and the devil or the world wants to domesticate it. He doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the gospel. He just wants Jesus to continue with his ministry according to his ways and methods. He wants the message of the gospel to lose its saltiness so that it would become as what Jesus said it would be, “something which is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”(Matthew 5:15)
The temptations of Christ are a warning to us not to contaminate the message of the gospel. However, the devil is very persuasive. His arguments are subtle and reasonable and even biblical. We need to be aware not to be swayed by his intelligent words.
Jesus was hungry after a long fast and he has the power to turn stones into bread. The devil’s suggestion appears to be a logical argument. Jesus should use his power to get what he wanted. The second temptation follows the same train of thought. Unfortunately, it is an argument that finds very little resistance today. He wanted to Jesus to demonstrate His privileges and power in a spectacular way so that people could see His glory. Today people approve this method claiming that it is a great way to draw people into their churches. It is a good marketing strategy. Jesus promptly refused because God does not exist to perform spectacular deeds for us. The final temptation is about shortcuts. We live in a time where “the end justifies the means spirituality” is dominant. The devil is offering a way to get to Jesus’ purpose in quick and easy way. Jesus knew that there was always a hefty price to pay when we take the shortcut to achieve the Kingdom’s goals.
All these temptations are part of the reality of anyone who wants to serve the purpose of the gospel today. Unfortunately, unlike Jesus, many of us do not prepare ourselves to face these seductive lies. We listen to the devil’s arguments without much reflection and think that he has great suggestions for the Kingdom of God. We follow his advice without hesitance and the result is that our message loses its saltiness. Jesus, on the other hand, spent 40 days in the desert reflecting and praying before He confronted the devil.
God does not test anyone but the world does. It will throw whatever persuasive arguments that are available to contaminate our intentions and zeal to serve God. The gospel threatens to destroy the foundation of this world. The Truth of the gospel exposes its lies and superficiality. The devil knows that he cannot destroy the gospel but he can contaminate it. The best way to this is to convince those who are touched by the power of the gospel to settle for something much less potent and superficial. The arguments of the devil are weak but only those who have given themselves to serious reflection and prayer can detect their fallacy.
I am glad that every season of Lent we read this episode of Jesus’ life. It helps me realize why we need this period. We need the time to reflect on the gospel and ask ourselves this simple question; are we serving the purpose of the gospel or are we using the gospel to serve our own needs? The latter is basically what the devil wanted Jesus to succumb to. It is not an easy question to ask ourselves but nevertheless a necessary one. We need more than forty days of reflection and self-examination but forty days of Lent is a good start.
Meanwhile back in the streets, I am grateful that I can tell our children that they are not in the streets because God is testing them. I can’t explain their present situation but I believe that the gospel has something powerful for them. We don’t know all the answers but we can discover the relevant ones together through the gospel. However, first, I need to make sure that I don’t contaminate the gospel with my own ambitions and desires. For this, I am grateful that the season of Lent gives the time to examine myself.