Friday, March 2, 2012

Reflecting on the Gospel of Matthew (4:1-11)

This passage from St. Matthew's gospel is one we often associate with Lent:  Jesus going out into the desert and fasting 40 days and 40 nights and being tempted by the devil.  In the following lines, I would like to share some things that I noticed about this particular passage that I discovered after spending some time reading and reflecting on it:

St. Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and that He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was hungry.  Now at first glance at these opening lines, one would tend to think that the temptations were during the forty days and forty nights.  However, the temptations occur after this time has elapsed. 

The first temptation has to do with something that all of us typically enjoy:  food.  If you don’t eat for forty days and forty nights, you are going to be hungry – not to mention weak.  Now the devil must have been watching and waiting for his chance, seeing it he approaches Jesus and says to him:  If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.  You can hear the criticism along with the tempting:  if you are.  Now the devil knew full well who and what Jesus was.  He was trying to force Jesus into a show of power.  Kind of like good ol’ Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit: your eyes will be opened and you will be like god.  Yet, Jesus, simply says in reply:  It is written:  One does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. 

Okay, strike one!  Time to try something else.  So the devil takes Jesus to the holy city and to the parapet of the temple, and says:  If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written:  He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.  Not bad, God’s dwelling place among man, surely here God’s Son will manifest his identity and show his power.  Wrong again!  Jesus comes back with:  Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.  Sorry, devil – strike two!

Okay, one last chance.  Can you see it?  It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded.  Team Devil is trailing by one point.  They just need to get one guy home to tie the score, a second to win the game.  The devil pulls out the big guns. 

A higher point is needed – a very high mountain.  The splendor and might of all the kingdoms of the world are spread out for view, and the devil plays his last card:  All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.  This has to do it, right?  Wrong!  Sorry devil, you struck out – again!  Jesus simply says to him:  Get away, Satan!  It is written:  The Lord, your God, you shall worship and him alone shall you serve! 

What can we learn today?  Perhaps that simple double commandment of love is the answer:  Love of God and love of neighbor.  Loving God, you trust Him to provide what you need – when you need it.  Loving your neighbor, you only want what is good for him – and don’t put yourself ahead of his needs.  Isn’t that what Christianity is about in a nutshell?  Isn’t it what we’re trying to do with our Lenten sacrifices and prayers?  Putting things in the right perspective and allowing God to live, and move and work through us for the good of others – which ultimately will also be for the good of ourselves.

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