Fr. Joseph K. Horn
25 February 1996
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, CA
So many interesting things to talk about in this Gospel! There’s the strange fact that Jesus was hungry after the forty days, not during. There’s the Scriptural meaning of the number 40. There’s the interesting fact that turning stones into bread is not a sin, but because the devil asked Jesus to do it, it’s considered a temptation. There’s the way that the devil kept saying, “If you are the Son of God,” which might mean that the devil didn’t really know who Jesus was, or that he was trying to figure out whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. It is also interesting that when Jesus was in his public ministry, he spoke with authority using his own words, but when tempted by the devil, he quoted the Scriptures. Even more interesting is the fact that the devil is described here as quoting the Scriptures too! There’s also the fact that one of the temptations took place on the parapet of the temple, which shows that temptations can happen anywhere, even in holy places. In St Matthew’s account, angels came and ministered to him after the temptations were over, which leads me to wonder: why didn’t they help him during the temptations? Also, there’s the clear lesson by Jesus’ example that we too should mortify our bodies by prayer and fasting, especially during this season of Lent. But what I find the most interesting of all is just this: that Jesus was tempted. How could such a great and holy person actually be tempted?
Well, consider this. Who is tempted more: Christians, or non-Christians? Christians are. Adult converts often say that they are tempted more after Baptism than beforehand. Here’s why. Baptism and Confirmation give us the weapons we need to do battle with Satan. We were not given these armaments to stand at ease, but to fight. God never tempts people beyond their strength, but we who have the arms and strength from God receive stronger temptations, and God does not ward them off. Why? Five reasons. First, so that we can learn by experience that we are indeed stronger. Secondly, to prevent us from becoming conceited over having God’s gifts. Thirdly, that the devil may receive proof that we have completely renounced him. Fourthly, that by the struggle we may become even stronger. Lastly, that we may realize how precious is the grace we have received, for the devil would not pursue us and tempt us so much if he did not consider victory over a Christian so desirable.
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.” Led by what spirit? The Holy Spirit, who knows all things, who knows that Jesus could do battle with the devil and win, who knows the strength we were given at Baptism and Confirmation, who knows that we have become soldiers of Christ, ready to go to war with Satan and defeat him. Although the Church has always warned us to avoid the near occasions of sin, we can peacefully face any temptation with confident faith that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, and that Baptism and Confirmation have made us ready for battle.
It is not audacity or arrogance that makes us look the devil in the eye and say, “Begone, Satan!” There is a difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogance is based on false pride, but confidence is based on knowledge. Non-Christians may not understand our eagerness “to fight for the right without question or pause, to march into hell for a heavenly cause.” They may think us arrogant, reckless, imprudent, and presumptuous. They may accuse us of putting the Lord our God to the test. But it’s the other way around. We don’t search for temptation; we even pray, “Lead us not into temptation!” But we don’t need to fear it, either, for after dying with Christ and rising again with him in the waters of Baptism, and after receiving the armor of a soldier of Christ in Confirmation, it would be dishonorable to remain cowering in the corner like unarmed, timid, fainthearted, lily-livered chickens. We have been given the duty to fight, and the means to win. We can lift our heads bravely and rely on the protection of God because we know in faith that his grace is our safeguard, our security.
So be understanding of those poor souls who live in fear of the devil. They do not know the power of God’s armaments, and have no choice but to spend their lives in fear. But that’s not how we live. We have been empowered by God to combat the evil in our communities and defeat it utterly. We Christians can go out to all the nations and tell them the good news that they don’t have to fear the devil any longer, that they can put on the armor of Christ too, that they can be courageous in their daily struggle, and that one day we will all join ranks together in one final battle of good versus evil where we will conquer Satan and his ilk once and for all in a glorious victory for God our Father and Jesus his Son and their Holy Spirit, after which we will join them in a new creation filled with such powerful peace, such blazing beauty, such limitless love, that our minds cannot even begin to grasp it now.
This is what I see in the temptation of Jesus in the desert. This is the power and courage given us by our faith. This is who we are. Not that we deserved it; we were sinners, and we still are. Without Him, we’d be nothing. But he chose us, and so we gratefully and courageously stand ready to serve him. Each day, when evil rears its ugly head, and God cries out, “Who will do battle for Us?” we will stand as one man, and valiantly shout to make the walls of Hell tremble, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”