You shall not put your Lord, your God, to the test
“Jesus ... was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil” (Lk 4:1-2).
Before he began his public activity, Jesus, moved by the Holy Spirit, withdrew into the wilderness for 40 days. Here, as we read today in the Gospel, he was put to the test by the devil who presented him with three temptations that are common in every person’s life: the pleasure of material possessions, the seduction of human power and the presumption of subordinating God to our own interests.
Jesus’ victorious struggle against the tempter does not end with the days he spent in the desert, but continues during the years of his public life and culminates in the dramatic events of Easter. It is precisely by his death on the Cross that the Redeemer ultimately overcomes evil, liberating humanity from sin and reconciling it with God. From the beginning, the Evangelist Luke appears to predict the fulfillment of salvation on Golgotha. Indeed, he ends the narrative of the temptations by mentioning Jerusalem where, in fact, Jesus’ paschal victory would be sealed.
The scene of Christ’s temptations in the desert are renewed every year at the beginning of Lent. The liturgy invites believers to enter the desert with Jesus and to follow him on the distinctive penitential journey of this Lenten season which began last Wednesday with the austere rite of ashes.
“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). The words of the Apostle Paul, which we have just heard, clearly explain the style and form of our Lenten pilgrimage. What is penance, if not a humble and sincere return to the sources of faith, by promptly rejecting temptation and sin and increasing our prayerful intimacy with the Lord?
Indeed, Christ alone can free man from what enslaves him to evil and selfishness: from the frantic search for material possessions, from the thirst for power and control over others and over things, from the illusion of easy success, from the frenzy of consumerism and hedonism which ultimately destroy the human being.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is what the Lord clearly asks of us in order to enter the true atmosphere of Lent. He wants us to learn in the wilderness of these 40 days how to face the enemy of our souls in the light of the Word of salvation. The Holy Spirit… gives life to our prayer so that we are ready courageously to undertake the constant struggle to overcome evil with good.
Excerpted from the HOMILY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II, Sunday, 1 March 1998.
©Libreria editrice Vaticana