Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:
Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:
He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
In the few days that have passed since Ash Wednesday, many of you will have known what it is like to be tempted because you may have fasted or given up something for Lent. It is so difficult to resist temptation at the best of times, but when you are hungry or fasting, voluntarily or otherwise temptation becomes infinitely more difficult. We are advised in our consumer culture never to shop while we are hungry lest we be tempted to overspend. The ever-present challenges that Christ faces in the gospel story are the reality of temptation, trying to voluntarily go without something for a little while and taking time aside from the cares and snares of the world.
In answer to the Devil’s temptations Jesus gives three answers in the Gospel;
Man does not live on bread alone,
You must not put the Lord God to the test,
You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.
With these counsels, Jesus dismisses the temptation to trust in the things of this world rather than trusting in God’s Word and promise. He invites us to confront our distrust and disbelief by challenging our attitudes and confronting our sinfulness and blindness. He highlights the folly of confronting God and transferring blame onto God for all the woes which inevitably befall us and the world
The period of Lent is meant to reflect the forty year journey of the chosen people through the desert. In re-enacting this crucial historical event, Jesus reminds us of the escape of God’s people from slavery and certain death and their epic desert journey into the promised land of life and plenty. In the desert, with its temptations and hungers, the people of God were formed. They were confronted with their own idolatry, with their hunger for the things of this world, and with their distrust of the God who journeyed with them, showing God’s presence as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night.
It may be easier to see and recognise our more obvious sins, the Original sins of pride and disobedience, and less easy to see the subtle failings that come between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others. Graham Greene wrote, ‘ It sometime seemed to him that venial sins, impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity, cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all.’ (The power and the glory.)
This is a time then for radical honesty, for facing down the devils and the demons within and without. It is a time apart, a time to re-form ourselves on the anvil of life. It is a time for fasting, for almsgiving and for praying, ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’