Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
First Sunday of Lent: Selfishness, Power, Pride and the Journey of Our Lives
This Sunday’s gospel presents us with the temptations of the Lord as related in the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke differs in the order of the temptations from the order found in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew the final temptation is when the devil led Jesus to the mountain and offered Him all the Kingdoms of the world if He worshiped him. In Luke, this temptation is placed second, the final temptation in Luke is the temptation from the parapet of the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke does this because beneath his relating of the teachings and miracles of the Lord, Luke has the theme of the journey: Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the fulfillment of the will of the Father. This journey is continued in the next book that St. Luke wrote, the Acts of the Apostles. Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, the center of the then known world. Deeper than this, Luke is stating that we Christians are called to walk with the Lord throughout the journey of our lives, the journey to complete the will of the Father. The forty days of Lent reminds us of this journey and invite us to examine how well we are traveling.
I would like to consider the temptations presented in today’s gospel and relate them to our lives. The first temptation was for the Lord to use his powers to take care of himself: You are hungry. Command this stone to be turned into bread. This is the temptation we all have to use God’s gifts in a selfish manner. We give in to this temptation when we put self-gratification before love. Consider this from God’s perspective. He has given us so much and merely asks us to use His gifts to draw closer to Him. Instead, we often hoard His gifts for ourselves, without any
consideration of the Divine Giver or His Presence in others. We have all suffered from others who have given in to this temptation. The worst hurt that any of us have received in our lives came from those who refused to return our love for them. Some of the most horrible actions of our lives have been motivated by our own decisions to take care of number one, to make bread for ourselves instead of love for others.
In the second temptation of the Lord, Jesus is brought to a mountain top and shown all the kingdoms of the world. They would all be His if He worshiped the devil. This is the Temptation of Power. In the sad history of the world, those in power often use their authority to hurt others. Sometimes they do this to protect themselves. Sometimes they use their power simply because they can. The world is full of bullies, and not just in the schools. Many men use their power over women only because most men are physically stronger. So often we hear about a sports figure brutalizing his wife, fiancé or girlfriend. Our society has an abuse crisis that is affecting a large portion of our women as well as our children. How can this happen? It happens because many people feel that might makes right, that the one who can hurt the other has a right to do so. The temptation to use power over others is sick. The temptation to do everything we can to acquire power over others is sad. Those who make power the goal of their lives end up worshiping the devil.
We all have to look within ourselves. All of us have a certain power over others, wives and husbands over each other, parents over children, siblings over their younger, weaker siblings, Teens and children over some of their classmates. None of us have the right to use this power to hurt. God gave us strength to pick others up, not to knock them down. The way of the world is the way of might makes right. Jesus showed a power greater than the power of the world. He showed us the Power of the Cross. He let himself be crucified to restore God’s love to the world. We show our greatest power when we act out of love, even if we have been unjustly attacked.
The final temptation of the devil was the one from the Parapet of the Temple. This parapet was the extension of the roof of the Temple over its wall. It must have been a scary place to stand, even if you are not afraid of heights. The Lord may have had the feeling most of us have when we are at the observation window of a skyscraper, or the edge of a steep cliff. He might have been afraid that he might fall. Scary. On the parapet, the devil told Jesus to throw himself down and see if His Father will save Him. The devil even quoted scripture saying that God would send His angels to save him. The devil tempted the Lord to force His Father to go into action. Doing this would show that he was more powerful than the Father.
None of us stand on parapets and tempt God to save us. Or do we? We often are tempted that if we do something terrible and fall, God will save us. Well, He very well might catch us. Or He might pick up our pieces after we are splattered on the ground. For example, a person may be living a very sinful life when he or she receives a grace to turn from sin and turn to the Lord. That is God catching us. Or the person might be living a sinful life and then bottom out, having destroyed himself and all the others around him. Many prisoners turn to the Lord with the faith that He will put them back together again. That is God picking up the pieces of the prisoner’s life.
At the end of today’s Gospel we hear that the devil left Jesus to return at a more opportune time. He returned when Jesus was facing the crisis we call the Agony in the Garden. The devil remained present throughout the crucifixion tempting the Lord to bring it all to a quick end. Jesus withstood. The devil’s temptations in our lives are particularly difficult when we are in crisis, when we are in turmoil, when we or a loved one are sick or die. Our Christian community strengthens us as we are exposed to people who at the moment of crisis seize their faith with both hands and trust God to get them through.
And He will. He will get all of us through whatever crises come in our lives. He cares for us when we need him the most because he loves us so much. He loves us so much that he sent His Son to suffer and die for us.
Today we are warned about selfishness, power and pride. We call upon the Mercy of God to forgive us for the times we have given in to these temptations. We ask God to help us fight evil. And we trust God to walk with us on the beautiful journey, the beautiful journey not only of Lent, but of our Christian lives.
May you have a wonderful Lent.