Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the First Sunday of Lent. Have you ever thought about what God hopes/desires for you during this Lenten season so that you will better celebrate the resurrection/Easter and eternal life God desires to share with you?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection February 26 2023. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “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’.”. Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Photo: wikipedia commons [[File:Yellow Jesus – Edited.jpg|Yellow Jesus – Edited]]
For the past several weeks the gospel readings have dealt with Jesus teaching the disciples what it means to be his followers. As we begin Lent, the Gospel text takes a dramatic shift. The first Sunday of Lent always presents an account of Jesus being directly temped by the devil. The second Sunday of Lent is an account of the Transfiguration. This year the text will come from Matthew 17:1-9. The next three gospel texts will be taken from John’s Gospel: John 4:5-42, the Samaritan woman at the well; John 9:1-41, curing of the man born blind; and John 11:1-45, raising Lazarus. The last Sunday of Lent is Passion Sunday, and the gospel will again come from Matthew 26:12-27:66. None of these gospels center on threats of punishment or turning from evil, but rather on the goodness of God overflowing and becoming manifest.
As Matthew presents the sequence of events of Jesus’ temptation, it follows on Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). Matthew describes Jesus coming out of the water and “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matt 3:16-17) Matthew then describes Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted. The description of Jesus’ temptation is the gospel text for this Sunday.
Matthew’s community assumed the presence of evil in ways that most modern readers might dismiss as naive or even fanciful. They believed that that there was an abundance of evil spirits whose main pastime was interacting with humans, sometimes with a surprising blessing but often with ill intentions. In order to ward off the ill effects of these spirits, people relied on objects and ritual actions and prayers that were believed to have protective powers. This spirit world also enjoyed its own way of communication and being connected, so that what happened in one part was known by others. The fact that God had said of Jesus that this was “my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” would naturally draw a response from others in the spirit world. Other spirits would want to know if Jesus was indeed worthy of such praise and tempt him in such ways that he might lose his favored status.
With their understanding, it is no surprise for the people for whom Matthew is writing that following the baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil. What is surprising is that Jesus does not rely on any of the things that they would have used to protect themselves from the powers of the spirit world, even after he has fasted for forty days and is hungry and vulnerable on many levels.
Matthew is also making use of the community’s familiarity with the events of the Exodus from Egypt. All the responses of Jesus to the temptations are quotations from the description of Israel’s wandering in the desert, as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:16 and 6:13). Jesus’ temptation and the exodus both take place in the desert, the place normally associated with the evil spirits. They would also recognize that Israel spent forty years in the desert, and Jesus has been fasting in the desert for forty days and forty nights. Matthew is building a connection between the experience of their ancestors in faith and the experience of Jesus.
Matthew also rearranges Luke’s account of the temptations so that the last temptation places Jesus on a very high mountain. Mountains were places of revelation, and the story of Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain was familiar to everyone as they heard Matthew describe Jesus’ last encounter. (Next week Matthew’s gospel will again place Jesus on a high mountain with three of the disciples for the transfiguration. Matthew’s community knew well the tradition that the mountain was the place where God revealed the relationship God desired to have with them as the chosen people.)
- What are your thoughts and feelings about Lent this year?
- Have you ever thought about what God hopes/desires for you during this Lenten season so that you will better celebrate the resurrection/Easter and eternal life God desires to share with you?
- What is your experience of evil in your life and/or in the world around you?
- What do you rely on to protect you from the power of evil?
- How do you experience occasions of temptation at this stage of your life?
- Jesus is tempted to use his status as beloved Son of God for his own purposes, (1) to ease his hunger, (2) to experience God’s protection, and (3) to be treated as one above others. In his rejection of the temptations, he refuses to use his status as highly favored Son of God and instead demonstrates his choice to be one of us even in being tempted. What does that say to you?
- What did Jesus learn about himself from his experience of being in the desert, the temptations, and how he responded?
- As you reflect on this text, what sense of yourself and your relationship with God come to the fore within you? Can you take some time to talk with God about your own awareness of being tempted, or how you would like to use this season of Lent?