The Gospel Reading for Sunday, February 14th, 2016
On this first Sunday of Lent, we read about Jesus enduring a forty day trial in the desert during which He is tempted by Satan. Unlike us, Jesus is not in need of repentance and purification to grow closer to the Father. Instead, this episode powerfully models strategies we can use to help us in our personal struggle with sin.
First, before facing temptation, Jesus prepares by filling Himself with the Holy Spirit and then fasting. This speaks to the efficacy of prayer and fasting to build resistance to the lure of sin. In calling on the Holy Spirit regularly, we too can fill ourselves with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which includes fortitude. As for fasting, it would be easy to read this passage that His fasting was a weakening agent that made Him vulnerable to Satan’s enticements, especially for food in His state of hunger. However, Jesus’s answer to Satan’s suggestion of turning the stone to bread, which He surely could have done, is to quote the scriptural wisdom, “One does not live on bread alone” (4).That is to say, life comes from the Creator first and foremost, and turning to evil for the temporary of sustenance of food is not worth risking severing ties with the Father who is the source of life and will provide in the absence of food. Furthermore, Jesus’s endorsement of fasting in this passage give us another way to be close to Him, especially during Lent, as the discomfort of fasting reminds of His suffering and death for our sins during the Passion.
The other strategy I read in this passage is Jesus’s use of sacred scripture as a guide to decision making. Every rebuttal Jesus gives to devil’s entrapments is a quotation from scripture. The relevance for us is knowledge of the word of God that comes from regular Bible reading and attention to the Liturgy of the Word in mass is another fortifier against sin. Reading and reflecting on scripture allows its teaching, wisdom, and exemplars to sink deep roots in our hearts. When confronted with temptation, we, like Jesus, can recall the truth of the gospel and unveil sin for what it is, an empty promise that is not capable of delivering God’s unconditional love. Without this enriching of our consciences with truth, it is easy to accept the rationalization of the world for so many sinful, selfish behaviors, whether we call them addictions or passions, under the misguided banner of happiness and freedom. Without a gospel of love in our hearts, we continue the futile search for happiness by indulging in the temporal pleasures of the world, forever unfulfilled. But, these sins wither and die under the objective scrutiny of the gospel, where we are instead turned to the path of eternal happiness with our Creator.
And so during this Lenten season, the Church provides us with rich opportunity for prayer, fasting, and reading of the Word. An increased focus on all these strategies will move us away from sin and closer to Jesus and we prepare to celebrate His covenant of salvation with us.