The first Sunday of Lent, by an ancient tradition, is dedicated to the temptation of Jesus in the desert. The preface of today’s Mass explains why: “By abstaining forty long days from earthly food, he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance.” Lent was not invented by the Church; it was Jesus himself to institute it.
The event we commemorate today happens at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, soon after his baptism: “Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” Apparently, it is necessary for Jesus to undergo this test before starting his mission: it is the Spirit that leads him into the desert to be tempted. But it is not just an isolated experience in Jesus’ life; it should rather be considered a programmatic story as it describes the entire mission of Jesus: during his public ministry and his whole earthly life, Jesus always fought against the devil; he came into the world exactly for this, to conquer him.
Now Jesus is ready to start his fight; the baptism equipped him for that purpose. Luke points out that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit”: it is a kind of armor to confront the enemy. Please notice: the devil also, in order to test Jesus, begins from what has been revealed in his baptism; no less than twice he says to him: “If you are the Son of God...” It is true: Jesus is the Son of God; but the devil would like Jesus to rebel against God. It is not impossible for a son to revolt against his own father. Indeed, sometimes it could seem that, for a son to become adult, it is necessary to get rid of dependence from his father. But Jesus knows that he can be Son only remaining united and submitted to God.
The main weapon Jesus uses to drive back the assaults of the enemy is the word of God: Jesus repeats “It is written...” At a certain point, the devil himself starts to use the same weapon; he also begins quoting Scripture: it becomes a duel fought with equal arms. But Jesus is stronger than the devil. The devil exploits the word of God to put Jesus to the test: those quotations are real word of God, but used by the devil for his own interests. Even the word of God can be manipulated.
The devil tests Jesus in three different ways. First of all, he advises him to use his divine powers to satisfy his human needs: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Secondly, he offers him earthly power and glory, on one condition: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Finally, he urges him to put God his Father to the test: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself from here,” angels “will support you.” These are three aspects of the same temptation: to become an earthly Messiah, regardless of God’s mission; to be the Son of God, without obeying him; to take advantage of divine privileges to carry out a human plan.
Jesus’ temptation is our temptation. We too are children of God and the devil tries to convince us to go our own way, irrespective of what is the plan of God upon us. He seduces us with his promises, proposing to us wealth, success, pleasure. But on one condition: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” How can we resist his enticement? Using the same weapons Jesus used: prayer, fasting, word of God. But, before everything else, we should be convinced that “one does not live on bread alone.” In life, material things are not everything: of course, we need food, health, money to live, but there are other things more important than these, which only God can give. The most important thing is faith: Saint Paul, in the second reading, reminds us of the Scripture teaching: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” If we believe, we should also try to discover and fulfill the will of God upon us, because we know that only in it is our salvation. Above all, we should remember that, in our fight against the devil, we are not alone, because Jesus fought against him before us and for us. And he won, not for himself, but for us.