In this reading we see Jesus submit to the challenge of evil. He is tempted, as through his humanity he has the same power of choice that we have, but does not succumb. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, 3 and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ 4 But he replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 5 The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. 6 ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down; for Scripture says: He will put you in his angels’ charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’ 7 Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’ 8 Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 ‘I will give you all these,’ he said, 'if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’ 11 Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
The readings set before us for the Sundays of Lent are extraordinarily rich. On the first Sunday the gospel is always that of the temptations of Jesus, read from one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). This year it is Matthew’s account which is read.
Jesus, filled with the Spirit received at his baptism, is now led by the same Spirit to the place of encounter with the devil. He who was willing to undergo the baptism usually reserved for sinners now submits to the challenge of evil. He who showed solidarity with sinners now confronts the power of sin.
There is a profound mystery here. The sinless one, who comes to save sinners, is nevertheless tempted, for Jesus in his humanity has the same power of choice that we have. While we frequently succumb to the lure of evil, Jesus never does. Three distinct temptations invite him to abuse his miraculous powers for selfish ends (turning stones into bread), to manipulate his relationship with the Father (leaping from the temple parapet), and to collude with evil to gain dominion over the world (worshipping the devil).
Jesus confounds the devil on each occasion by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy. The Scriptures urge us to pursue what is good and to worship the one, true God. The behaviour of Jesus in the gospel contrasts sharply with that of Adam and Eve in the reading from Genesis as they succumb to temptation. St Paul, writing to the Romans in the second reading, explains the effects of the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Jesus.
From where does Jesus derive his strength in his battle with evil?
To what extent do the Scriptures inspire my decisions?
Pray for the courage to unmask the deceptive power of evil.
Pray for the wisdom to reject selfishness and the strength to confront evil.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy