Greetings to you on the First Sunday of Lent. I hope and pray your Lenten observances (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) are off to a good start.
We began Lent with the imposition of Ashes and the stark reminder that we "are dust, and unto dust" we shall return. The all important lesson we take from this primitive, nearly tribal, marking of our bodies is to examine what our lives shall be between the time we have the ashes smudged across our foreheads and the time we become ash ourselves.
Through our Lenten observance we withdraw, with Jesus, into the desert to examine our lives and to be cleansed and purified. But when we enter this time of penitence, this desert, we, like the Lord, will have to do battle. Prayer is our weapon against the Devil. Fasting is our weapon against the flesh and carnal desires. Almsgiving is our weapon against the pride, rage, and greed of this world.
The Gospel today recounts that epic scene of Jesus confronting the Devil. But in this confrontation the Lord relives in his flesh, the history of Israel.
Jesus goes out into the wilderness after having passed through water in his Baptism (Luke 3:22), just as Israel wandered the desert after passing through the Red Sea. Israel was tested in the desert for forty years, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested for forty days and nights.
He faces the same temptations that the people of Israel faced: He's tempted by the Devil at his most basic of needs, food. "Command that these stones be turned into bread." Jesus is tempted to grumble against God for food, as Israel had done.
Second, Jesus was tempted to doubt his own identity and His Father's plan just as Israel was tempted to disobey God and doubt God's care for them at Massah.
Next, the Devil showed the Lord all the kingdoms of the earth and then tempted the Lord by saying "All these shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me." In other words, "you don't have to suffer." When the Devil asks His homage, Jesus is tempted to do what Israel did in worshiping the golden calf.
To each temptation, Jesus fights the devil with the Word of God, quoting from Moses the lessons Israel was supposed to learn from its time in the desert. Jesus did what the Adam and Eve did not do in the First reading, and what the people of Israel did not do, he defeated the Devil. Paul recounts this in the second reading.
The "forty" days of Lent recall the Lord's time in the desert and the forty years of wandering of Israel. This is our Forty days of trial and purification.
Lent teaches us these lessons learned throughout today's readings. We beseech mercy for our sins in the Psalm and pray "Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.... A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." (Psalm 51)
Paul, too, promises the same in the second reading "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous." (Romans 10:13).
Each of us is confronted with temptation everyday. Our Lord knows the struggle, he endured it himself, and His victory can be our victory. Do not forget the great deeds. He works in our lives and to call upon the name of the Lord.
God bless you all,
Father Robert Letona