God created us to be happy, that is a truth repeated a thousand times in Sacred Scripture, but since evil and sin entered the world, man’s happiness on this earth has been frustrated. An opponent of God, an ancient Enemy of God and of Man is presented in the first pages of Genesis so that we may better understand the origin of so much evil in this world. Man fell from his first state of grace, justice and happiness because he believed the lie of the Ancient Serpent, Satan, while at the same time he freely distrusted God’s plan. What a terrible history of the human being!
Since then, this happiness or beatitude to which Man was called from the beginning can only be achieved in part through struggle and combat. Yes my brothers, the life of man is a battle, as Job says in his book: «The life of man on earth is a battle» (Job 7, 1). And I am not referring precisely to the battle that may exist between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, no. It is a spiritual battle. It is a spiritual battle.
This is what the liturgy of this day, the first Sunday of Lent, wants to teach us. It is a battle that must be embraced by all those who want to come after Jesus Christ.
The first thing Jesus Christ did after inaugurating his public ministry by receiving the baptism of St. John the Baptist was to allow himself to be «driven» by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. You heard right, the Holy Spirit «drove» the Lord Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights.
The battlefield is the human soul, where the hardest fights take place, the context in which the tempter comes is the desert, where there is nothing to hold on to, where the conditions are hostile to our humanity, where we definitely find ourselves helpless and at a disadvantage.
The temptations with which we will be attacked are mainly three. These are like an archetype of all the temptations of mankind as a whole, they are the oldest temptations in the history of our race. These are: pleasure, power and having.
Let us look at each of these battles that are played out in the heart of all of us, and which Jesus wanted to fight by fully assuming our own humanity. He is presented by the Evangelist as a New Adam, who does not allow himself to be overcome by the insidiousness of the Old Tempter.
The first is PLEASURE, TASTE AND SATISFACTION OF THE SENSES. THIS WE MAY CALL SENSUALITY. THIS IS WHAT WAS IN THE BACKGROUND OF THE FIRST TEMPTATION WE HAVE JUST HEARD:
When Jesus was hungry, the devil said to him:
– If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.
Jesus then answered him:
– It is written, «Man does not live by bread alone.»
A thousand times a day we are tempted by comfort and pleasure. And pleasure in itself is not bad. Evil is when we make a god out of Pleasure. When my own comfort and my personal tastes are above others, when they crush the poor who have no possibility of satisfying their real hunger for bread, or when my desire to enjoy everything good makes me forget the needs of others. Feeling good is not bad, but forgetting the pain of others while we shut ourselves up in a castle of personal, sensual and narcissistic satisfaction is to let ourselves be overcome by the devil.
The second temptation is POWER, HONOR AND GLORY, THEY ARE THE SAME THING. ONE FEELS HAPPY FOR THE RESPECT OF MEN, FOR EXAMPLE, BY BEING HONORED FOR OUR STATUS IN SOCIETY, FOR OUR CLASS, OUR MONEY, OUR TITLES. IT IS BASICALLY A TRIBUTE PAID TO OUR OWN PRIDE.
The Gospel says that the devil took Jesus up to the top of the Temple and said to him:
– If you are the Son of God throw yourself down, for it is written «God will send his angels to guard you, they will take you in their hands and your foot will not stumble over any stone.»
Jesus answered him:
– It is also written, «You shall not tempt the Lord your God.»
You can imagine what would have happened if Jesus had succumbed to this temptation and actually thrown Himself into it. He who had angels at his service would have shown all present his great power and majesty. All would have applauded with open mouths and Jesus would have had no need to defend his identity as the Son of God. He would have been automatically crowned as Messiah and King of all the people. But this is not God’s way. Jesus always rejected this «show» of appearances. When they wanted to make him king, he ran away and when he entered Jerusalem, he wanted to do it on a donkey.
On the contrary, we seek recognition all the time. We respect our titles, merits and decorations. We like to be honored by everyone and often the honor of men is the only motivation we have to do good.
The challenge of this Lent is to imitate Jesus in his humility: to pass in simplicity, doing good for the love of God and others, never seeking to make a «show». For our Father sees in the secret, in the depths of the heart. We cannot deceive him with appearances or human honors.
And finally we find the third, the temptation to HAVE, TO POSSESS. WE ARE EAGER TO DOMINATE THINGS AND PEOPLE. THIS IS THE TEMPTATION OF THE POLITICIAN WHO BECOMES A DICTATOR OR TYRANT, WHO THINKS THAT THE PEOPLE HE IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE BELONG TO HIM AND BELIEVES HE HAS THE POWER TO MANIPULATE THEM AS HE PLEASES. HE THINKS HE HAS THE POWER TO PLAY WITH THE DESTINY OF HUMAN BEINGS.
Satan took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said to him:
– I will give you all these, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.
But Jesus, remembering the core of the Law, answered him:
– Withdraw, Satan, for it is written, «Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.»
The devil always pretends to appear more powerful than he is. He has been a liar from the beginning. Although he certainly has an influence in this world, the origin and end of all that exists is in the hands of God. Only the Creator is the true owner of the creatures. And although Jesus knows all this, he has not come to this world to establish a reign as a merely human leader. His kingdom transcends this world, it is beyond human borders and human hatreds. His kingdom has germinated in this world, but it does not belong to this world of wars and hidden intentions.
In our case the opposite is true. We want more than we have, we seek more than we need, and we are never satisfied with what we have. We seek more and more. The best car, the latest cell phone, the best brand clothes, the biggest and most luxurious houses. Sometimes we even want to have more than one woman! We are literally sick of greed, of craving to possess and manage. Deep down, it is an insatiable hunger that will never leave us alone, it will never give us happiness either.
But there is good news. The news is that despite these trials that come our way, we are not entirely lost. The good news is that trials and temptations are not bad in themselves, rather they are the opportunity to bring us closer to God. It is not bad that we have to fight against temptations, what is more bad is that we succumb and fall into them. Life is a challenge and is not made for cowards.
St. Augustine used to say, and with this phrase of his I want to end:
«Our life in the midst of this pilgrimage cannot be without temptation, because our progress is made through temptation, and no one knows himself if he is not tempted, nor can he be crowned if he has not conquered, nor conquer if he has not fought, nor fight if he has no enemies or temptations.»
Therefore let us not be afraid in this Lenten combat and may the Lord help us. Amen.