There is a popular hymn: "They will know we are Christians by our love…". On Wednesday last they knew we were Christians by the ashes marked on our foreheads as we entered our Lenten journey in a very visible way Today, on this First Sunday of Lent, we are presented with Luke’s account of the reason for our forty day experience of prayer, fasting and penance. Luke’s gospel reminds us of the trials willingly faced by Jesus before he began his messianic mission. This trial leaves him victorious and prepares him to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God. Luke explains that Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led into the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil. During these days Jesus confronts the devil, unmasks his temptations and conquers him. As we read in the Preface for this First Sunday of Lent: By abstaining forty days from earthly food, he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice, so that celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast." The three temptations with which the devil confronted Jesus most likely represent the challenges and struggles that Jesus had to face throughout his entire ministry.
The first temptation by the devil is the challenge for Jesus to turn the stones into bread. It is prefaced by "if…" if you are the Son of God…". The implication is that Jesus is not who he claims to be. In the second temptation the devil offers Jesus power and glory over all the world. If Jesus worships the devil, the world would be his. The allure is considerable, but Jesus chooses to serve God over the devil. The final temptation is a challenge to prove that Jesus is the Son of God by throwing himself off the parapet of the Temple knowing that legions of angels will save him and he will survive unharmed. Again Jesus refuses such a proposal and he will not do anything to prove his messiahship. Recognizing Jesus as the Son of God can be achieved only through faith. With this understanding of the journey of Lent in imitation of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, we can choose the best way through prayer, fasting or penance to prepare ourselves for the Passion and death of Jesus to be followed by his glorious Resurrection.
Fr John R. Mulvehill