1st Sunday of Lent
by Fr. Jack McArdle
GOSPEL : MATTHEW 4:1-11
Today's gospel is very significant. Jesus has just been baptised in the Jordan, the Spirit has come upon him, he is being led by the Spirit, and now he comes face to face with Satan. There are like boxers, entering the ring from either direction. In the Book of Revelations, the last book of the Bible, there is an account there of the battle in heaven between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer. Lucifer was defeated, and was cast down to earth. Notice the word earth, which is repeated four times in that one account. Since that time, Lucifer is known as Satan, which, literally, means the enemy. Jesus has come to reclaim for God what is God's. He has come right into the kingdom of Satan, which is on this earth, and he is going to redeem all those held captive my Satan. The word redeem was used to describe what happened when a slave was bought from his owner, and given his freedom.
Satan tests Jesus in the three areas of living where most of us fail and fall. Satan wanted to find out whether Jesus was really the Messiah, the Son of God. If he were a mere human, he would fall at any one of the hurdles Satan had thrown in his way. The first hurdle had to do with human appetites, which is very close to the bone. Our appetites are part of who we are, and they will always be there. Jesus pointed to something even more important than bread, and he quoted Scripture to prove it, so Satan didn't succeed there. Next Satan tested him in the area of responsibility; again, an area where all of us fail. We can fail to take proper responsibility for our health, for our relationships, for our proper use of the gift of life, and all of these can break down, and something good is destroyed. Once again, Jesus responds that we must take responsibility for our actions, and not act independently of God's expectations of us. Satan tried one last throw of the dice, using the big one, pride. This is what had caused Satan's own downfall, and the Fall in the Garden. Power, wealth, glory, control, etc., are always very tempting to the human spirit. However, we all know there is a price to be paid. It involves compromise, corruption, or loss of moral values. The price Satan demanded was extreme. That Jesus should be asked to adore Satan was the end of the line for Satan, and he was fully exposed to the power, the authority, and the divinity of Jesus, and was dismissed with the words "Get out of here, Satan". The battle was over, and heaven celebrated the victory of Jesus.
In one of Aesop's fables there's a story about an argument between the wind and the sun as to which of them was the stronger. The wind was very proud of his strength. It could uproot whole buildings, and level the strongest tree. In its eyes, the sun had warmth and nothing else. To settle the argument, they agreed to test their respective strengths against a man who was wearing an overcoat. It was agreed that whichever of them compelled the man to take off his overcoat, that one was the stronger.
The wind began the test. It blew and blew, even to gale-force, but the only reaction from the man was to wrap his coat tighter around him. The sun took over. It didn't actually do anything. It just shone in the sky, and let the heat reach the man. Within minutes, the man removed his overcoat.
When Jesus returned from the desert, he headed for the temple, where he began his public ministry. If we are to walk with him in Christian ministry, then we, too, have to overcome in ourselves those things that get in the way of Christian living. We live in a world where half the people are dying of hunger, while the other half is on a diet, trying to lose weight. The Irish people have the reputation of being generous, and yet the total annual contribution, from public and private sources, to the hungry people of the world, is less than what is spent in the pubs in twelve nights. There can be a big difference between what we want and what we need.
God gives me nothing for myself. He doesn't give me my gift of speech to go around talking to myself! Life itself is a gift, and we all possess many gifts and talents. We will have to account to God for how we have spent those gifts, and we have to take responsibility for what we do with them. God gives me what it takes to live the worthwhile life, to do the good, and to provide the service, but he will not force me in any direction against my will. If I have the will, he will supply the power. He will do the good through me, but I must supply the hands, the feet, the voice, and the heart.
There are many false gods in this world, and each has many committed followers. The false gods are wealth, pleasure, power, control, and unbridled selfishness. There is only one true God, and following him is the only path that leads to happiness in this life and in the next. Satan is very clever, and if we are not on our guard, he can lead us into ways of living that lead to death and destruction. Jesus overcame Satan, and he hands that power to those who follow him. "I have given you full authority over the evil one. Nothing shall harm you. Your names are registered as citizens of heaven", he tells us. St. John says "There is a power within you that is greater than any evil power you will meet on the road of life."
The Hebrews marked their doors with the blood of the lamb, so that the angel of death passed them by, and could not harm them. At our baptism we were marked on the forehead with the oil of anointing, to signify that we are God's children, and that Satan has no authority over us. There is nothing automatic or magic in this. If someone comes up with a medicine that cures cancer, nothing happens until the sick person uses the medicine, and follows the directions on the bottle. Jesus asked us to follow him. It was never intended that we go backwards, or stand still on the Christian journey.
Because of the rapid growth in communications, and the real influence being exerted by television, advertising, and general affluence, it is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve a Christian ethos in our homes and families. The custom of having a house blessed, or of displaying some Christian symbol, such as a crucifix, is something that has been revered down the years, and no one of us can tell just what blessings resulted, or what disasters were averted by such a practice. The mothers of a previous generation never allowed their children out the door without throwing a sprinkling of holy water after them. In today's world, such a custom might be scoffed at ; but it would be a great pity to discard the wisdom of hundreds of years just because I consider myself more intelligent than my grandparents. It is possible to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. St. Paul speaks about what he calls the foolishness of this world.....
Jesus said that you are either for me or against me. One advantage Satan has is that he has two groups on his side : He has those who are deliberately involved in evil-doing, and he has those who are doing nothing. All that is needed for evil people to succeed is that good people should do nothing. There are three groups of people in any society. There is a small group who cause things to happen. There is a larger group who watch things happening. And there's the vast majority who haven't a clue what's happening. The very fact that you are here this morning, or that you are reading this, is a very good indicator that you are not among those who do nothing. Scripture speaks the following words about the lukewarm :I wish that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth.... In today's language, that means you make me sick.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. After his encounter with Satan, we are told that he was led by the Spirit down into the Temple. At any single moment of my life there is always some spirit speaking to me. Sometimes it's the human spirit, at other times it's the Spirit of God, and at others it's the evil spirit. It is important to be able to discern these spirits. By their fruits you will know them, says Jesus. There is an inbuilt barometer within the human heart that responds to good and evil. It's called conscience. Most of that word is made up of the word science, which comes from the Latin scio, meaning I know. When I was a child I had a dog that looked guilty whenever he did something wrong! Any of you parents can look at a child and know rightly that he has been up to something he shouldn't. It requires great honesty and moral courage to live according to my conscience. When I use the word conscience, I am speaking of a good conscience, rather than a conscience that is perverse, blunted, or scrupulous. To thine own self be true, and then thou can't be false to anyone else, says Shakespeare.
Take a few moments out, sometime today, and reflect on your life in the light of today's gospel. How are you dealing with the temptations with which Satan tested Jesus?
Do you carry any religious object on your person? It is only by doing this that you will come to experience the blessings that come from it.
Do you know what it means to be led by the Spirit? Develop the practice of a short prayer to the Holy Spirit before all decisions and undertakings. This can be your protection against going down the wrong road in an undertaking, in a relationship, or in a decision. St. Paul tells us that we should learn to live and to walk in the Spirit. This is something that I work on, that I practise, that I make part of everything I do and say.
A stretch-limo pulled up in front of a retirement home one day, and a young man, full of his own importance, stepped out of it, and began walking towards the entrance. It was a beautiful sunny day, and many of the old folks were sitting out front, complete with straw hats and sunglasses. The visitor was a famous pop-star, and he was used to commotion and excitement wherever he. On this occasion, however, nobody seemed to notice him, or to pay any heed to him. Full of his own importance, he stood in front of one old lady, and asked "Do you know who I am?" She didn't even lift her head, as she replied "No, but if you go in to the girl at the Reception, she should be able to tell you"!
In today's gospel, Jesus puts Satan in his place……………
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And That's The Gospel Truth copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.