Today's first reading and gospel are about hungers: hungers for power, position, and possessions rather than who one is before God. We are who we are—and—we are no more and no less than who we are before God. In the first reading from Genesis, we have the story of the so-called “Fall”. However, we can look at their sin as one of coveting the power of being “like God”. In their desire to be like God, they don't realize that they are not ready.
If one is trapped in atonement theology, we think only of “The Fall.” However, we can look at this story as a metaphor for the beginning of humanity's journey toward wholeness. One can think of God's punishment in terms of a parent insisting the children do community service in a hospital ward so that the kids can begin to understand and learn from what they have done. Imagine, it went something like this:-- After they were cast out of the Garden, out of the beautiful paradise, they begin to forget Eden but they long for utopia, for paradise. Through the centuries, they begin to learn from the life experiences caused by their hunger for divine power. They learn the knowledge of good and evil and—with God's help, choose good. Imagine that it was a necessary lesson, not only for them, but for all of us. So that when we return to the Garden we will be aware of the fact that we are in Paradise. We will tend it, each other, and ourselves in a totally different way than if we were growing in it and never realizing the paradisiacal state that we are in. Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity, have to learn to appreciate the gifts of God and our responsibility to care for each other and our Garden of Eden. That is who we are. That is who we are created to be.
Now for Adam and Eve there wasn't much competition. But by the time of Jesus, hunger for the three “P”s: power, position, possessions had become seeds of division, injustice and oppression. In today's gospel, Jesus models how to be in right relationship by overcoming the hunger for power and position and the unbridled desire for possessions.
In the first temptation, Jesus is being tempted to prove his power and position “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” But Jesus refuses. What feeds him is other people. He knows that to be fully human—which Jesus is—is to accept one's dependence on God and interdependence with all of creation.
Likewise in the second temptation, Jesus is tempted to prove his power and position. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. ... He will command his angels concerning you”, et cetera. Jesus knows who he is. He doesn't need to prove it. He doesn't need to ask God to prove it either. He is confident of God's love and concern. Now, during this season of Lent, we Christians need to pay special attention to this. So often, because we have been sold the falsehood that we are not good enough, we seek approval from others and proof of God's love for us by trying to prove our goodness. This hunger for divine and human approval sometimes results in the need to prove we're better than others. We need to internalize the confidence in God's love that Jesus models for us in these verses. The Franciscan theologian Dun Scotus taught that God does not only love roses, God loves each individual rose for itself. The same is true for us. God not only loves humanity. God loves each one of us individually for the self that we are. When we internalize this, it becomes easier for us to love one another as Jesus commanded.
Lastly, Jesus is tempted with the words, “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” This temptation deals with the hunger for possessions. These days individuals and corporations have prostrated themselves in the worship of money; in the desire for possessions and riches. In paying homage to greed, they have gone to war. They have subjugated peoples and whole geographic regions. They are oblivious of their own bondage and to the fact that they are destroying the earth that sustains them. Jesus shows us that the obsessive desire for possessions is idolatry. Matthew is trying to tell us here that—for Jesus—God is the God of Enough. Matthew's metaphor shows us that the idolatry of insatiable greed enslaves us.
All is not doom and gloom. We must keep in mind that this Gospel gives us hope. Jesus reminds us that we too can be triumphant over our temptations through faith. The temptations in today's gospel represent the temptation to fulfill different types of hungers. I have touched on three. But what about the hunger hidden deep within our hearts, the hunger of who we are called to be in God’s eyes? Lent is a time to yield to God’s will for us, in us and through us. During his time in the desert, Jesus was able to clear the distractions of his own life and commit to his call, that is, to teach us how to live. So following Jesus example, rather than be disheartened by our own encounters with temptation, we should be strengthened by our desert moments. After Jesus had resisted all the temptors enticements, today's gospel ends with, “Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” Matthew is telling us that God was with Jesus all through this encounter. God is also with us, especially during our desert moments. Let us give thanks for the presence of God in our lives.
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