Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Great Lent - Day 40, Temptation of Christ

Volume 5 No. 272 March 26, 2015

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Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Foreword

This Friday in Church - Great Lent Day - 40

1. Bible Readings for This Friday (March 27)

Bible Readings For The Friday before Hosanna (40th Friday)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_40th-Friday.htm

2. Sermons for This Friday (March 27)

Sermons For The Friday before Hosanna (40th Friday)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_40th-Friday.htm

3. Malankara World Passion Week Supplement

Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:

Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Default.htm

Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. You will find it here:

Today in Passion Week
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Passion_Today_archives.htm

Features

4. Insights Into The Temptation of Christ

One interesting analysis of this passage that I've read is based on the possibility that Satan did not know who Christ was while this conversation took place. The "temptations," then, are Satan's way of trying to get Christ to reveal Himself either by performing a miracle, or by saying something as simple and definitive as: "I am God and you can't tempt me, dude -- so get lost." ...

5. How You can Overcome the Temptation to Sin

So the question is, are you going to trust God at His word through all circumstances? Or, are you going to let fear take hold in your heart and give in to temptation? Perspective changes, but God's Word never changes. Cling to the truth in all circumstances and keep your focus on God! ...

6. And the Spirit Led Jesus ...

It was Ruach God's creating and life giving power that led Jesus.

And that made all the difference for him and it makes all the difference for us as well. For the Spirit led Jesus, pointing to God's life giving purpose for him. And so it is for us - the Spirit points us as we begin Lent, to see God's life giving purpose for us, one day at a time, and grow. Lent means Spring, a time to grow. ...

7. Temptation of Christ - The Maybe Moment

Ever think of temptation as a test? That's actually the Greek word in the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught: "Lead us not into the test." It is what we pray to God, some of us praying these words every day. Lead us not into the place where our integrity is tested, where our virtue is challenged, where our fidelity is pushed, where our eyes see something that our leaky hearts want to fill.

Jesus teaches us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation," precisely because the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He knew what that was like. He also knew that our souls are at risk if we give in. ...

8. Meditation on Psalm 90 - Temptation of Jesus Christ

Driven by the Holy Ghost into the Lenten desert to be with Christ, we are full of confidence. Already the brightness of the Holy Resurrection shines on the horizon, filling us with hope. We will celebrate the Great Lent with worthy minds if we fill our days and our nights with the prayer of Christ, a prayer given us in Psalm 90, and made perfect in us by our partaking of the adorable and life-giving Body and Blood of the Lord. ...

9. Family Special: The First Temptation

...This is why Jesus responds: "It is written: 'One does not live by bread alone.'" Life means so much more than sensual pleasure. Love, loyalty, relationships, family, moral excellence, aesthetic pleasure, and the aspiration after God are all so much more important. How tragic then when we think that life shrinks down to the contours of pleasure or bodily satisfaction.

10. About Malankara World

Foreword
With this issue of Malankara World Journal, we are entering the Passion Week for 2015. The important days of the Passion week are:

Friday - Fortieth Day of the Great Lent - Temptation of Jesus Christ by Satan before his public ministry

Lazarus Saturday - Forty first Day of the Great Lent - Raising of Lazarus

Palm Sunday - Hosanna - Triumphal Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem as a King, Cleansing of the Temple of moneychangers

Monty Thursday - Pes'ho - Establishment of Eucharist, Washing the Feet of Disciples, New Commandment: Love one another.

Good Friday - Passion of Jesus Christ, Jesus completing the mission He has sent to earth for

Gospel Saturday - Jesus proclaiming the Gospel to those in Hades

Easter - Kymtho - Resurrection. Mission of Jesus accomplished. Jesus has won over death and Satan (darkness).

This is a fast moving week, with lot of spiritual and liturgical significance. MWJ will have specials to cover the significance of these events. This will be supplemented by the Malankara World Passion Week Supplement:

http://www.malankaraworld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/default.htm

that will go, in depth, on these events of the Passion week. This will be supplemented by the previous issues of Malankara World Journals in archive.

We wish you a spiritually rewarding Passion Week.

This Friday in Church - Great Lent Day - 40
Bible Readings for This Friday (March 27)
Sermons for This Friday (March 27)

Malankara World Passion Week Supplement

We are at the beginning of Holy Week. If we want to truly be Christian, this week ought to be a time when we share in a special way in the passion of Christ. We do this, not so much by indulging in pious feelings, but by bearing the burdens of our life with simple fortitude and without ostentation. For we share by faith in the passion of our Lord precisely by realizing that our life is a participation in his destiny. We find this difficult, because so often we fail to understand that the bitterness and burdens of our own life do - or should - give us a mysterious share in the destiny of all human beings … If we were aware of this … we would understand that his passion is the unique acceptance of the passion of humankind, in which it is accepted, suffered, redeemed, and freed into the mystery of God. (Karl Rahner)

Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:

Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World

Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. Please click on the link below for the day to read the reflection for that day.

Fortieth Friday

Lazarus Saturday

Palm Sunday

Malankara World Journal Issues Specials for Great Lent Day 40:

MW Journal Issue 208 (40th Friday Special) April 8, 2014

MW Journal Issue 131 - Holy Week Special 1 (40th Fri/Lazarus Sat)

MW Journal Issue 67 - Holy Week Special 1 (40th Fri/Lazarus Sat/Palm Sunday)

Features

Insights Into The Temptation of Christ

by EBH

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

There's a deeper analysis that can be done about this Gospel passage. For one thing, these were not "temptations" as we understand it from a human perspective. Christ was God, and was therefore incapable of sin -- which means the whole idea that he might be "tempted" to worship Satan is ludicrous.

One interesting analysis of this passage that I've read is based on the possibility that Satan did not know who Christ was while this conversation took place. The "temptations," then, are Satan's way of trying to get Christ to reveal Himself either by performing a miracle, or by saying something as simple and definitive as: "I am God and you can't tempt me, dude -- so get lost."

It's not clear from the Gospel passage, but in citing Psalm 90 Satan even goes so far as to lay out a path of his own destruction at the hands of an all-powerful God. This is the part of Psalm 90 that he quotes: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.

This is the very next line in Psalm 90: Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon. What Satan was effectively saying was that if the power of God was in this man he was conversing with, then this man would have the power to destroy him right there on the spot.

But the most remarkable aspect of the "temptations" is that Christ answered all of them in a way that did not require Him to project His Divine power over Satan. He answered these temptations in a way that humans could answer them, and in doing so demonstrated that Satan's power, though strong, can be resisted by mere humans. 

How You can Overcome the Temptation to Sin

by Dr. Jack Graham

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
- James 1:13-14

I want you to picture a 6-inch-wide plank laid down along a sidewalk. Now if someone were to ask you to walk on that plank while it was on the ground, you'd very likely have no problem. But if you were to take that same plank and suspend it 200 feet high between two buildings, your perspective would be quite different.

That's exactly what happens with temptation, isn't it? We walk through our daily lives and think, "Hey, this isn't so bad. I can handle this." But then someone or something changes our circumstances and we get scared. So we take our eyes off of the task at hand and allow fear to push us into giving in to temptation.

The truth is that obedience is obedience no matter what circumstances we face. The difference is our perspective. It's usually easy to be honest with your financial dealings in times of success. But when money stops coming in, the temptation is there to do underhanded things. It's not that God's standards have changed, but your perspective on them has.

So the question is, are you going to trust God at His word through all circumstances? Or, are you going to let fear take hold in your heart and give in to temptation? Perspective changes, but God's Word never changes. Cling to the truth in all circumstances and keep your focus on God!

DON'T LET YOUR PERSPECTIVE DETER YOU FROM OBEDIENCE. TRUST GOD AT HIS WORD BECAUSE HE NEVER CHANGES!

Source: PowerPoint Ministries

And the Spirit Led Jesus ...

by Cathy Feil

Gospel: Matthew 4:1 - 11

And the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (From here on I'm going to use the word adversary for devil - because for me, it speaks more strongly of a power at work against God.)

And the Spirit led Jesus. Ruach, the name for God's Spirit, cosmic creating power, hovered over the waters, creating… in Genesis. Ruach, the life giving breath of God brought out of the valley of dry bones, in Ezekial, clattering bones, sinews and muscles coming together and the breath of life breathing into these gathering bones, making these individual human beings - alive! Ruach, in Micah, gave Micah the power to pursue justice.

It was Ruach God's creating and life giving power that led Jesus.

And that made all the difference for him and it makes all the difference for us as well. For the Spirit led Jesus, pointing to God's life giving purpose for him. And so it is for us - the Spirit points us as we begin Lent, to see God's life giving purpose for us, one day at a time, and grow. Lent means Spring, a time to grow.

And the Spirit led Jesus. Jesus begins the journey in the narratives of Matthew and Mark immediately after God declares Jesus at His baptism - to be God's Beloved Son with whom he is pleased. And so Jesus is sent into the wilderness to be tempted by the adversary, knowing He is God's Beloved. We too, begin this Lenten journey surrounded by God's love claiming us - Beloved.

This context, this picture of Lent is different from what is so often presented. It does not mean Jesus does not have his Great Struggle. It does not mean we will not struggle if we choose to be engaged - .But it means we are pointed by the Spirit to God's life giving purpose for us and surrounded by God's love and that makes all the difference.

Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus had no time to take in, the voice from heaven's confirmation of His identity, as God's Son, - when God's Spirit- suddenly, opened up space… the wilderness space and… 40 days time. This was space for Jesus to - take in the truth of Whose He was; to explore His relationship to His Mother-Father God; to live into his Belovedness; to be strengthened in faith. This was also space in which He in His humanity would have had to struggle for survival. We too, in the wilderness of our own making are still surrounded by God's claiming us Beloved. And it is in this context of grace, and it is only because of this context of grace, that we are enabled to take the risk of seeing ourselves - as we are - Real (with a capital R).

And so the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. I'm a visual person - so I'm passing out a picture (if you'll pass it around in your section) of a wilderness between Jerusalem and Galilee.

What words or phrases come to mind about it? Barren, bare, hot, arid, no shade, never ending, without green vegetation, no people or animals, no place to hide, silent, expansive, no noise

What is this wilderness far away from, in your everyday life? Children and dogs, obligations, expectations, packed schedules, cell phones and more…

What does this wilderness picture offer you?

In communities of faith, we have become so accustomed to wilderness, desert, journey language that it just passes right by us sometimes. Most of us won't have the opportunity to go on a retreat in Lent. So I have asked you to list words and phrases in order that you can create for yourself a new image of wilderness for these 40 days. What words felt important for you in order to feel alone with God? Is it the place that is expansive, or where there is no place to hide, or is without noise or interruption. What image suggests for you, in the midst of your life, - a place where there is the possibility of being open with few distractions to God, even in a small bit of time of the day.

I have other thoughts about the wilderness. There are so many questions one might ask.

What life giving self is God calling me to be? (I bought a card recently that says - "Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive." Howard Thurman) What life giving self is God calling me to be? Then this follows right upon its heels - what parts of myself call me away from that authentic self?

Just two more questions. What systematic injustice am I beginning to see my complicity in. Where do I go from here in my one day at a time to reflect on it? What systematic injustice am I oppressed by - and how can I go on this Lenten journey (to begin or continue to) get the oppression out of me? That's a lot of questions. Too many. One question will be enough, that is, yours and mine. Merton calls this work "Working out our identity in God."

And so the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the adversary. And so after 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus is famished. In 12 Step programs this place where Jesus is in call for a time to HALT. This in captital letters stands for Hungery, Angry, Lonely and Tired. It is described as a dangerous place to be for it can be a tipping point, pointing towards filling the hunger with an addiction. So, the adversary takes advantage of Jesus in his tipping point, his human weakness - that he is famished- and tries to seduce him with the first temptation." If you are the Son of God", the adversary begins. He introduces each temptation with these words daring Jesus to prove himself by doing the adversary's bidding. "Turn these stones into bread." In Matthew loaf is plural. The adversary challenges Jesus not only to feed himself but alleviate the sharp terrible hunger pains of others. But Jesus says, "It is written, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

With these words, Jesus refuses to use His power for the adversary. He refuses to take on the guise of miracle worker. Instead He stays in the identity God is leading Him in….And so, Jesus knows his own hunger and our hunger…. He is on His way to becoming the bread of life, broken in His ministry and on the cross, for the world.

In each challenge, Jesus chooses to be God's Beloved Son, and turns over His own will to God's. To be led only by God. As He enters His ministry, He will embody a Messiah whose love and justice, cross and resurrection, is a result of following His Mother-Father God's life giving purpose for Him, and the Mother-Father God's love for Him and all creation.

As the adversary tempted Jesus, we too have temptations that separate us from ourselves, others and God. During Lent we're invited to pick one or two that particularly tempt us now. This is not an abstract exercise .And this morning as a way of talking about grappling with our own realities, I am going to suggest we look at these temptations through the lens of the 1st three steps of a 12 Step program. I have found that the steps of 12 step programs are some of the most comprehensive and deep approaches to spiritually grappling with our own realities.

Step 1 "Admit we are powerless over - whatever temptation you and I have chosen to work on. This step asks us to admit powerlessness over the temptation. I am going to adapt this a bit. The word powerlessness is utterly essential for addicts, but perhaps it needs to be put a different way in this conversation. (Like this) - we are called to admit we find ourselves in a seesaw battle with that which is unhealthy for us, and we can't seem to let go….If we are able to admit this in the presence of God - we become naked in our weakness, Real (again with a capital R) before our loving God. This is a profound place for a new beginning. I'll say it again, we are called to admit we find ourselves in a seesaw battle with that which is unhealthy for us and we can't let go….

Step 2 says "Came to believe a Power Greater Than Ourselves could restore us to sanity." The definition of insanity for people in 12 step programs is, doing something over and over again that hurts you. Like walking into a door repeatedly. This Step asks us to believe that God can help us stop our insanity, and help us to change.

Step 3 "Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God…". Made a decision asks us to do just that, decide to turn our will and our lives over to God. This step is about surrender to God, letting God lead us out of our old behavior into something new. There is a quality this Step speaks of as being absolutely essential to take this step. That quality is called "willingness." So, simple yet so hard. This step says if we are "willing" to turn our life over to God we will discover "a faith that works." We will become able to entrust ourselves to God, trusting God will bring a new life, even if its not what we expect, one day at a time.

These three steps in Lent simply offer us:

1.) A way to know ourselves in weakness and let God see it and let go.

2.) Come to believe through God change is possible.

3.) That when we surrender our struggle to God, we become co-collaborators with God in living out God's purposes for us, one day at a time.

Lent means Spring, a time to grow. We're on the journey with Jesus, now.

Amen.

Source: © 8th Day Faith Community

Temptation of Christ - The Maybe Moment

by William G. Carter

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Here is a scripture passage that we often hear in the season of Lent. But it occurs right after the baptism of Jesus, and that's why we hear it today:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' "Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The bumper sticker comes from a more Christian age than the one that we live in today. It began with a line from the Lord's Prayer: "Lead us not into temptation…" Then the next line: "I can find it all by myself." I can't imagine those words on a bumper sticker these days, but I certainly understand the sentiment.

There is temptation all around us. There are people who cannot drive past the hot red light at Krispy Kreme without pulling in for a donut. There are home shoppers who look through every catalog when their closets are already full, declaring, "I feel tempted." Some car enthusiasts can't wait to find out more about next year's model. And sometime around February 11, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition will arrive in the mailbox. "Lead us not into temptation, I can find it all by myself."

But Matthew says Jesus was led right into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil. And he (the second person of the Trinity) was led by the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity). This was to be his test, probably the first of many. It sounds as if the Father (the first person of the Trinity) said, "Let's see what you're made of."

Ever think of temptation as a test? That's actually the Greek word in the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught: "Lead us not into the test." It is what we pray to God, some of us praying these words every day. Lead us not into the place where our integrity is tested, where our virtue is challenged, where our fidelity is pushed, where our eyes see something that our leaky hearts want to fill.

Jesus teaches us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation," precisely because the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He knew what that was like. He also knew that our souls are at risk if we give in.

Temptation is a test. In Matthew's story, the angels stay off stage and all heaven watches. Jesus, in all his humanity, in all his divinity, is given three sinister examinations. Each one seems like the right thing to do. Each one appears very attractive. He is not tempted to do anything that seems wrong. No, he is tempted to do things that, on the surface, seem exactly right.

If you are God's Son, use your heavenly power to feed the hungry. The world has a lot of hungry people.

If you are God's Son, use your miraculous power to impress the crowds. The world needs a miracle to believe.

If you are God's Son, hand your authority to me and I will give you everything. Skip the cross and resurrection and get it all now.

Henri Nouwen, the spiritual writer, saw what was so tempting, both for Jesus and the people who follow him.[1] The first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is the temptation to be relevant. It is to put ourselves at the center, to say, "We are the ones who can do everything that is needed." If there are hungry people, we will feed them. If there are problems in the world, we will fix them. If there is something the world needs, it's up to us. In other words, nobody needs to wait for God to provide. Here we are to save the day!

Now, I don't know about you, but I've never been tempted to turn stones into bread. I don't have the ability. About all I can do is turn peanut butter into a sandwich. But I have been tempted to fix things that I never can fix. Two friends refuse to talk to one another, let me try to mend that. Somebody has a life-threatening disease, let me tell it's always going to get better. Someone is missing a loved one, let me offer to fill the gap.

The truth is, we can't do everything. The real question is whether we can do anything. How convenient for Jesus, in all his hunger, to turn a boulder into a sandwich! And while he's at it, fix the problems of world hunger with a little magic at the stone quarry! Wouldn't that be nice? Use the magic of heaven to fix the problems of earth!

Except someone is always going to reach for more bread, and probably take it out of somebody else's hands. Or if you fix it today, it's going to need to be fixed again tomorrow. We can't do it. We need God. And Jesus reaches back into his scriptures to declare what Moses taught: "We do not live by bread alone; we live by the words that God speaks." And in the face of great need, if we don't start there, with God, we are tempted to put ourselves in the middle. We are tempted to become over-functioning friends, hovering parents, or obsessive do-gooders who burn ourselves out. To push God out and make ourselves relevant rarely turns out well.

The second temptation is to be spectacular, to be impressive, to be so amazing that you can sway other people. "Take a swan dive from the top of the Temple," says the Devil to Jesus. To make the invitation, the Devil quotes Psalm 91, where it says, "And God shall raise you up on eagle's wings, lest you dash your foot against the stone." God will catch you. Call in the favors. Remind God what he promises to do for you. And then show off, in the most public places, at the most available time, and everybody will be impressed.

A lot of people buy into this. What the world needs now is a lot of razzle dazzle. Lights, camera, action. A series of ongoing fireworks displays, each one bigger than the last. We swim in a sea of hype. The marketing people used to tell us that we needed to hear a message seven times before it sinks in. With all the advertising, the screens, the internet pop-ups, the commercials, our desires have been rewired. Now we need to see a message, as well as hear it, at least seventy times before it can sink in. Have to make it bigger, flashier, more impressive!

The Devil says to Jesus, "Let's put this on TV, all 1850 channels at the same time. Hire a great graphics team. Zoom in on your face with a hi-definition camera to catch your smile when you jump from the top of the tower. That will get them. That will win them over." Make it spectacular!

Well, wouldn't that be nice. But if you subscribe to cable TV, you know one of the problems. You can have 1850 channels and have nothing to watch. Or you become weary of so much spectacle that you dismiss it all, like eating too much chocolate cake. The first piece is fantastic, the next three pieces are tasty, the tenth and eleventh pieces are wearing you down.

And God has no interest in winning people's hearts through miracle and spectacle. Hundreds of years before Jesus, the Jewish faith almost died out, sustained only by a small remnant. Jesus is sent to be the child of peasants, raised in a town off the beaten path, keeps a hidden profile until he was thirty, has only a few years to do his work, then is crucified between two thieves. And when God raises him from the dead, nobody sees the actual event, and he appears to a handful of loved ones, none of them important. The rest of us have to lean forward to see if it's true.

Nouwen writes, "To be spectacular is so much our concern that we, who have been spectators most of our lives, can hardly conceive that what is unknown, unspectacular, and hidden can have any value." The God we know in Christ is all of those things: largely unknown, unimpressive, and hidden - - until we discover that he is our treasure. The Christ comes quietly, rarely with a lot of pizzazz.

The third temptation is the temptation to exert power. Power! "See all those kingdoms out there?" says the Devil. "Say the word and they can be yours. You can be the king of kings if you let me put you there. You can rule over it all and never have to put on a crown of thorns."

Wow, what a wonderful offer! To win over the world. To use your authority to bring everybody around you. To accomplish in one executive order all that you want to have done! There are Christian people who think this is the way it ought to go: tell the rest of the world we are calling the shots. Get the right people elected to do what we tell them to do. Declare in all our authority that everybody else is wrong and it's time for them to get in line behind us. You can read about this sort of thing in Time magazine, you can watch it on your favorite cable news network, and it can even get you elected as the governor of New Jersey. Tell everybody else what to do. Exert your power!

I remember I had a dog years ago. I loved to bark out orders at that dog: sit down, roll over, be quiet. That dog would do whatever I said. And then two cats came to live in my house. When I barked, they just looked me and yawned. And then they started influencing the dog. Pretty soon, none of them would listen to me. It was the best preparation in the world for becoming a parent. I should have known better; I'm a preacher.

The first problem is that, in the process of exerting your power, you run the risk of selling out your soul. You ascend by putting others under your feet; never a wise long-term move. I think of the line that Thomas Beckett speaks in the T.S. Eliot drama "Murder in the Cathedral" -- "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason."

The second problem is that exerting power is not the calling for those who are baptized. God is the authority, and Satan is not his office administrator. God rules, not us. Like Jesus, we are always baptized to be servants, never authorities. That is the shape of our Christian conversion: to become servants. We stand beside people, not above them. We win the right to be heard by coming alongside those whom we first serve. We listen with a quiet heart before we speak. And Jesus keeps all things rightly aligned with the words, "Worship the Lord your God; it is God alone you shall serve."

These are three temptations after the water of baptism, and they remain: to be relevant, to be spectacular, to exert power. Each one begins with the word "If… If… If…" Each is a moment that decides between the hard way to heaven and the highway to hell. Maybe it could go this way, maybe it could go like that. Temptation is the Maybe Moment. It will reveal what we are made of.

When that moment comes to you, the best way ahead is keep your eyes on Jesus, who went through this before we ever came along. See what he sees, do what he does. Declare what he declares: that we are here to serve God, not ourselves, and we serve God alone. The Devil will depart you for a while, and suddenly the angels will come to help.

God bless you.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] I am grateful for Father Nouwen's book, The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985). His insights in pages 47-66 have influenced this sermon.
 

Meditation on Psalm 90 - Temptation of Jesus Christ

by Fr. Mark

Today the sacred liturgy transports us into the desert: an arid wilderness, uncharted, inhospitable, and haunted by evil spirits. This being said, the tone of today's Mass is reassuring and full of confidence. Psalm 90 (Qui habitat) runs through today's Gospel reading from beginning to end. "He will give thee the shelter of his arms; under his wings thou shalt find refuge, his faithful care thy watch and ward" (Psalm 90:4-5). The desert is, paradoxically, the very place where, cut off from all else, we experience the closeness of God. The opening verses of Psalm 90 have, in the translation of Ronald Knox, a note of intimacy that may escape us in more familiar translations:

Content if thou be to live with the Most High for thy defense,
under his Almighty shadow nestling still,
him thy refuge, him thy stronghold thou mayst call,
thy own God, in whom is all thy trust"
(Psalm 90:1-2).

Christ Praying in Us

Today's Gospel passage places Psalm 90 in the mouth of Christ. Psalm 90 is the prayer by which Our Lord exorcises the desert, cleanses it, and sanctifies it. The liturgy places the same psalm in our mouths. We repeat it; we pray it; we sing it; we allow it to inhabit us. Held in the heart, Psalm 90 becomes Christ's own prayer for us, and with us, and in us, to the Father. Psalm 90 functions today as a sacrament of the prayer of Christ. It is that by which we are efficaciously united to the prayer of the Christ in His temptations. It is the means by which Christ's own prayer to the Father can inhabit all our moments of temptation, loneliness, and fear.

A Psalm for Lent Penitents

Psalm 90 is is clearly the great prayer of the day; it is the Church's principal Lenten meditation. The Church would have us understand that it contains all that is needed for us to complete the Lenten journey. Psalm 90 is among the most salutary Lenten penances that a confessor can give his penitents. I would, in fact, recommend that priests who hear many confessions have on hand printed copies (in a prayer card format) of the text of Psalm 90, so as to give them to their penitents.

A Psalm in Spiritual Combat

Psalm 90 is like a mother's provision for the son going off to war. "Take this," she says, "keep it close to your heart, and when, all around you, the battle rages repeat it, knowing that I am praying it with you." "Though a thousand fall at thy side, ten thousand at thy right side, it shall never come next or near thee" (Psalm 90:7). Psalm 90 is one of the few psalms that we find used universally in both East and West on a daily basis. When we discover that the practice of the Church is to pray a given psalm every day, it must be because that psalm has, in the light of experience, been found indispensable.

The Noonday Devil

In the East Psalm 90 was assigned every day to the Sixth Hour, that is noon. This particular choice was inspired by verse 6: "Thou shalt not be afraid of . . . the arrow that flieth in the day . . . or of the noonday devil" (Psalm 90:5-6). The fathers and mothers of the desert identified the noonday devil as the evil force that attacks those who are "burned out" and weary. The noonday devil insinuates thoughts of dejection and of disgust for prayer and the things of God. The noonday devil whispers dark thoughts and plants them in the mind: discouragement, despondency, and despair. "Give it up. What's the use? Why go on? It all means nothing. You've been taken in, deceived. There is nothing on the other side. There is no hope for you. Your life is a failure. You are beyond redemption. You are not salvageable." These are the classic temptations of desert-dwellers from Saint Anthony of Egypt to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, tempted to suicide during her final illness.

The Terrors of the Night

In the West, thanks to the Rule of Saint Benedict, Psalm 90 was assigned to Compline, the last prayer before going to bed. While Eastern Christians focused on the "noonday devil," Western Christians were more struck by the references to darkness. "Nothing shalt thou have to fear from nightly terrors . . . from pestilence that walks to and fro in the darkness" (Psalm 90:5-6). The terror of the night: what child has not known the terror of mysterious evil beings lurking in dark closets, hanging behind the curtains and hiding under the bed? What city streets are not haunted at night by demons of violence, addiction, loneliness, and lust? How many people lie awake at night tormented by anxieties, ruminating old hurts, and fearing new ones? The ancient Compline hymn resonates with the psalm: "From all ill dreams defend our eyes, / From nightly fears and fantasies; / Tread under foot our ghostly foe, / That no pollution we may know" (Te lucis ante terminum).

Beasts and Angels

Besides the noonday devil and the terrors of the night, there are in Psalm 90 two other images that we find also in today's Gospel: wild beasts and angels. The psalm says, "He has given charge to his angels concerning thee, to watch over thee wheresoever thou goest; they will hold thee up with their hands lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone" (Psalm 90:11-12). Angels! Now, the beasts: "Thou shalt tread safely on asp and adder, crush lion and serpent under thy feet" (Psalm 90:13). In a single sentence Saint Mark evokes the mysterious reality of the Son of God set around with wild beasts and angels. Jesus, he says, "lodged with the beasts, and there the angels ministered to him" (Mark 1:12). Saint Mark's wild beasts are those named in Psalm 90: the asp and the adder, the lion and the serpent.

Malign Influences

The wild beasts of the Gospel and of the psalm are figures of the fallen angels, the demons who haunt our desert wildernesses. Cassian explains that "one is called a lion because of his wild fury and raging ferocity, another an adder because of the mortal poison that kills before it is noticed" (Conferences 7.32.5). Saint Peter speaks of the devil as a lion in a text that the traditional Office of Compline associated with Psalm 90: "Be sober and watch well; the devil who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey, but you, grounded in the faith, must face him boldly" (1 Peter 5:8).

While the lion seeks to intimidate by roaring, the viper is silent and deadly, striking quickly and without warning. The attacks of evil spirits on us are real. Saint Paul says: "It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery over the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours" (Ephesians 6:12).

Ministering Angels

In the fray of spiritual combat and the wastelands of sin, the angels too are present. They watch over us, ready at every moment to rescue us from the treacherous lures of evil. The angels sent by the Father to minister to Christ in his temptations are sent to minister to us in ours. I am struck by this ministry of angels to the tempted and suffering Christ. Saint Mark points to their presence in the desert; for Saint Luke, it is in the garden of Gethsemane, that "an angel from heaven appears to Jesus, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43).

It is good, at the beginning of this Lenten season to recall that while we are tempted and attacked by the noonday devil and the terrors of the night, the holy angels speak to us of the sheltering hand of God, the hand by which we are protected, nourished, and even caressed.

Promises of Glory

In the last part of Psalm 90 we hear the promises of the Father to His beloved Son, suffering and tempted. These are just as truly the Father's promises to each of us in our hour of testing. "He trusts in me, mine it is to deliver him; he acknowledges my name, from me he shall have protection; when he calls upon me, I will listen, in affliction I am at his side, to bring him to safety and honour. Length of days he shall have to content him, and find in me deliverance" (Ps 90:16).

Driven by the Holy Ghost into the Lenten desert to be with Christ, we are full of confidence. Already the brightness of the Holy Resurrection shines on the horizon, filling us with hope. We will celebrate the Great Lent with worthy minds if we fill our days and our nights with the prayer of Christ, a prayer given us in Psalm 90, and made perfect in us by our partaking of the adorable and life-giving Body and Blood of the Lord.

Source: Vultus Christi

Family Special: The First Temptation

by Fr. Robert Barron

The temptations Jesus faced may seem a little obscure to us, but, in fact, they lie at the heart of all human temptation. They are three classic substitutes for the good that is God's will.

The first great temptation is to focus our lives on material things and the satisfaction of sensual desire: "The tempter approached and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.'"

Jesus is starving after 40 days of fasting. And he feels the temptation to use his divine power to satisfy his bodily desires. This is the pull toward hedonism - the philosophy that the good life is the physically-satisfying life. Food, drink, sex, material things, money, comfort, a secure sense of the future are the supreme values for many, especially in our culture.

Many, many people throughout history are waylaid by this powerful temptation. It is appealing because the desires are so basic. Thomas Merton said that the sensual desires - for food, comfort, pleasure, sex - are like children in that they are so immediate and so insistent.

But our lives will never expand to greater depth as long as we are dominated by our physical desires. This is why in so many of the initiation rituals of primal peoples, something like fasting or deprivation is essential. It is also why initiation into a demanding form of life, like the military, often involves the deprivation of sensual pleasures.

When we give way to this temptation, it shuts down the soul, for the soul has been wired for God, for journey into the divine. When sensual desire dominates, those deeper and richer desires are never felt or followed. They are, as Merton said, like little children, constantly clamoring for attention, and never satisfied.

This is why Jesus responds: "It is written: 'One does not live by bread alone.'" Life means so much more than sensual pleasure. Love, loyalty, relationships, family, moral excellence, aesthetic pleasure, and the aspiration after God are all so much more important. How tragic then when we think that life shrinks down to the contours of pleasure or bodily satisfaction.

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