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cappie

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

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cappie

This Gospel highlights for us one of the central themes of the Season of Lent. We are dependent upon God for all that we have and all that we are. Anything that leads us to reject this dependency or to distrust its sufficiency, is a temptation from the devil. Jesus relives in His flesh the history of Israel. Now, as Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested for forty days and nights. He faces the temptations put to Israel.

 Again, someone is offered everything from what he immediately needs (food) to world domination and great power, in exchange for Jesus’ going back on everything he is. In an act of desperation, the devil even offers Jesus a chance to put the doubters to rest once and for all by defying gravity in front of scores of worshipers at the temple in Jerusalem. If the ends really do justify the means, you could even say that the devil gave him an opportunity.

 Jesus, of course, famously resists the devil’s temptations, quotes the Scriptures right back to him, and gets rid of him. Jesus refuses to sell his soul, metaphorically speaking, and unlike other characters, he doesn’t even have to trick or outperform the devil.

It’s tempting to celebrate Jesus’ victory over temptation here as an end in itself, wishing that we could resist evil as well as Jesus did. We are tempted to think this story is like all the other stories — one to emulate.

But  as Luke tells us today, “ the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.” It’s not hard to figure out when that appointed time would be. It will be the next time that things get really desperate for Jesus: when he is arrested by the authorities.

“You’ll be just another dead Jewish rebel…” the devil will whisper again, but again, Jesus will refuse to listen, go to the cross, and die, only to be raised again and to defeat death forever.  There is more to the story of Jesus in the wilderness than “we should resist the devil too.”

On that night when Jesus was arrested, Judas will betray him for money and Peter will deny him out of fear. While we humans can resist evil on our own, we also have a distinct tendency not to — especially when we’re desperate.

We react out of fear when we are threatened, and we refuse to do good to others because of that fear. We know how to outsmart, out-talk, and defeat evil, but too often, we don’t, no matter how many times we re-read this story and analyse Jesus’ strategy.     

We tell this story of  because  Jesus didn’t just outsmart evil. Despite and even in the midst of human failure, Jesus defeated evil once and for all, and in doing so, he set us free from the claim that death has on us. Because it doesn’t matter how often you defeat the devil if you are still bound to die.     
     
This is why the Jesus story is different. On the night he was betrayed, while humanity stood outside giving in to evil and fear, Christ gave himself for us. He was raised again so that we would not, no matter how many times we outsmarted the devil, be forever buried. We resist evil and do good not to become legends or win back our souls, but because Christ resisted evil first.

So, we continue in the journey of Lent, following after Jesus, knowing  it is Jesus, not we, doing the real work. The temptation story isn’t just another story of the devil’s defeat. It is our story that God's promise of protection can be trusted, and God alone is God.

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