Lead Us Not into Temptation

SEAN INNERST

In this month’s installment of our liturgical Bible study, we come to the readings for the Lenten season. The 40 days of Lent are meant to replicate in the life of the Church the 40-day fast of Jesus recounted in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent. That reminds us of the operating principle of our Bible study: Jesus Christ is the central, inner meaning of the whole of salvation history.

In this month's installment of our liturgical Bible study, we come to the readings for the Lenten season. The 40 days of Lent are meant to replicate in the life of the Church the 40-day fast of Jesus recounted in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent. That reminds us of the operating principle of our Bible study: Jesus Christ is the central, inner meaning of the whole of salvation history. In the liturgical seasons of the Church, we recognize that He is not only the summation of all the events of the Old Testament and the impetus behind the New, but also He is present in His Mystical Body, the Church, in every age.

In the Gospel of Luke, the episode of Christ's 40-day fast and temptation provides us with a model for our own victory over one of the greatest problems of mankind — temptation. As the center and key to human history, Jesus begins His mission of repairing the damage done by sin since the Fall of Adam and Eve by going into the wilderness to face a similar temptation, and to succeed where they had failed.

Luke's presentation of Jesus as the "new Adam" is even introduced in the words just before the temptation episode. At the end of chapter three, the genealogy describing Jesus' human origins concludes with the words: "Adam, the son of God" (3:38). Adam had no human father — he was the "son of God." That phrase could almost stand as a title for the drama of temptation that follows. Even Satan echoes the new Adam theme when tempting Jesus by using the words, "If you are the Son of God" (4:3), repeating the title just used for Adam at the end of chapter three.

Satan entices Jesus three times to abandon His righteous course, using food, power, and death as his tools. Jesus answers by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, which sums up the lessons God had tried to teach the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert at the time of the exodus from Egypt. Luke (and Matthew, in his version of the same event) obviously wants to draw a parallel between the trials of Israel during the exodus and the 40 days that Jesus is in the desert. Jesus, again, expresses in Himself the beginning, the middle, and the end of God's plan, in layer upon layer of symbolism drawn from Old Testament history. But let's focus our attention on the way in which Jesus' encounter with evil incarnate resembles the account of the Fall in Genesis.

The ancient serpent (see also Revelation 12) tempted Adam and Eve with the same three items: food, power, and death. The evil one suggested to Eve that she should eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve answers that they had been told that if they ate of that tree they would die. Satan replies that they wouldn't die, but rather, they would gain the power of gods. Of course, Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation.

Jesus does the very opposite. He says, "Man shall not live by bread alone," "You shall not tempt the Lord your God," and "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." The three temptations, or tests, that Adam and Eve, and then Jesus encountered symbolize the three sources of temptation that tradition describes: the flesh, the world, and the devil. Satan tempts Jesus with food, symbolizing the desires of the flesh; with power over earthly kingdoms, symbolizing the lure of the world; and with a direct appeal from himself (Satan) to tempt death, which is a symbol both for the devil himself and the deadliest of all sins into which he seeks to draw us, pride.

The whole point of Luke's account is that Jesus has gone before us into the battle against temptation and won. If we follow His example in resisting temptation and beg for His grace to enable us to overcome all the temptations we face, we can become saints, even great saints. Scripture says of Our Lord, "because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). When temptation strikes, whether it comes from the flesh, the world, or the devil, it is vital that we not try to go it alon e. The sooner we cry out to Jesus and employ the wisdom of the saints in resisting evil, the sooner we will come to resemble Him, and them, in virtue. That is our task in this holy season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Now let's take a closer look at the readings for the First Sunday of Lent.

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

This Lenten season begins with recounting the "first fruits" offering that was commanded of Israel before entry into the Promised Land. That is, we are reminded that to enter into the promises of Easter, we must offer the best of ourselves in the coming Lent.

The first fruits offering was not simply a kind of bribe given to God in return for fertility, as was often the case in other cultures. The offering was divided among the priests, the poor, and the aliens (those in a strange land). It was an act of almsgiving. A ceremonial recitation was commanded along with the offering, and it was intended to impress upon the one making the offering that he was once poor and an alien in a strange land. "My father was a wandering Aramean," he would say.

The Jews thought of themselves corporately — as a nation — and so when one recalled that Abraham had been a sojourner in Egypt, or that God had drawn Israel out of Egypt again under Moses, it was a profession of one's own experience in the collective identity of Israel. So for Israel, the first fruits offering was a collective act of humility and charity. In this ritual act that fed the poor and the alien, Israel said, in effect, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

We have the same need as Israel to recognize that what we have is a gift. We have been given the "Promised Land" — the Church — through no merit of our own. We were once wandering Gentiles, we might say. Even if we are lifelong Catholics and the children of lifelong Catholics, in some measure we still owe the gift of our faith to a long-forgotten Abraham in our own family tree, someone who responded fruitfully to God's invitation. In this Lenten season, one of the ways we can express our gratitude to God for His gifts is by being generous to the poor and the alien.

Romans 10:8-13

St. Paul uses many terms in this reading that are charged with meaning. They are so weighty because they allude to events from the Old Testament. St. Paul employs at least five allusions to Old Testament passages in just five verses in our second reading (cf. Lev. 18:5; Deut. 30:12, 14; Is. 28:16; Joel 3:5).

One example of St. Paul's usage of a weighted word, one with significant, multiple meanings, occurs when he contrasts the righteousness that comes from the Law and the righteousness that comes by faith. In Hebrew, the term "righteousness" is zedek. In the ancient world, it could mean that you were a legitimate heir or descendent. Kings were spoken of as "righteous," not because of their morals, but their lineage. To be "righteous" meant you were the rightful heir, that is, you had a right to inherit the throne.

But "righteousness" can also mean acting justly or doing the right thing. One would be said to be just or righteous if he obeyed God's laws and lived in accord with the Covenant.

St. Paul's point, then, is that righteousness — understood as an inheritance — is not possible to earn by works (righteous acts), any more than one can earn the right to sit on the throne. The throne is received by inheritance. That is, it is a gift, and so is our inheritance of heaven.

An inheritance cannot be earned, but it can be squandered or lost, as the parable of the prodigal son shows. We can get ourselves removed from the will, you might say. We can't earn the inheritance God offers in Christ, but we must live like the royalty we are by declaring our faith in Christ and becoming His disciples.

A proper understanding of the term "righteousness" combines the two ideas contained in the one, weighted word. We receive the gift of being righteous (or rightful) heirs by faith in Christ, and we keep our place in the inheritance by righteous acts of faith working in love under the influence of God's grace.

Luke 4:1-13

British biblical scholar N.T. Wright makes the case that Luke's Gospel intends to stand astride two worlds: Hellenistic and Jewish. For the ancients, Wright explains, stories shaped a society's worldview, and stories that sought to reshape a worldview were inherently subversive. The way to change someone's mind was to alter his understanding of the story of the world. The Gospel story is just such a "subversive" story, one that seeks to change peoples' minds about themselves and their world. Luke was interested in changing the way the Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) people understood themselves and the world, and he did this by showing that Jesus is the definitive key not only to the Jewish story, but also to the whole human story.

Luke does this by framing the story of the Gospel as a bios (the root of biography). The story of Jesus is told in the way that the ancient Greeks and Romans would tell stories of the great figures of history. Luke shows that the Jewish worldview or story is the central one for all mankind, and that Jesus is the fulfillment and proof of the universality of the Jewish story. As Wright puts it, Luke's Gospel is a "Jewish message for the Gentile world." (1)

Above we discussed Luke's interest in showing that Jesus is a new Adam and an embodiment of the new Israel, who does well in what His forerunners did badly. But Luke is also particularly interested in showing that Jesus is the new David, a new king of which the world ought to take note. (The ancients were very interested in royalty because they were seen as carrying a divine mandate. Kings and queens had their hands on the controls of history, you might say.) Jesus, in Luke's view, is the figure who is to extend the blessings promised to Israel under King David to the whole world. One of the parallels between David and Jesus can be seen in our Gospel reading this week.

In 1 Samuel 16:13, the Holy Spirit rushed upon David after the prophet Samuel anointed him. Then, in 1 Samuel 17, David fought and defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. In Luke's Gospel, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the Jordan after the prophet John baptizes Him. Then, Jesus fights and defeats Satan in the desert. Interestingly, at the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, a voice is heard from heaven: "Thou art my beloved son." In Hebrew the name "David" means "beloved." The name is applied to David only after the Spirit rushes upon him in 1 Samuel 16. Likewise, Jesus who is Ben David, or the Son of David, is dubbed the "beloved son" at the coming of the Spirit in Luke 3.

Many more parallels could be shown between the stories of David and Jesus in Luke's Gospel. Of course, as has already been mentioned, the parallels between Jesus' story and that of David are not the only ones between Jesus and Old Testament figures. But we can learn a great deal about Jesus by analyzing any one set of these Old Testament parallels.

It is important for us to remember that, in Jesus, we also are connected to the people of Israel who struggled to remain faithful to their God. ("Israel" means "struggle.") In the 40 days of our Lenten season, we relive their 4,000 years of struggle, just as Jesus relived that struggle in His 40 days of testing in the desert. In Him, the Jewish story becomes our story. In Him, we hope for the Easter victory that heralds the salvation story for the whole world.


Endnote

  1. N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 381.


Reflection questions

(1) Jesus tells us that those who prove themselves trustworthy in small things will be given responsibility for greater things. How does this apply to the life of virtue and the struggle against temptations?

(2) Before you can make the basketball team you have to learn the basic skills of shooting and dribbling. How would that example fit in with our practice of Lenten sacrifices (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving)?

(3) What are the three traditional sources of temptation?

(4) Each of us has different weaknesses and strengths. What temptations are you weakest against and which bother you the least? (Avoid the mistake, however, of thinking that any temptation is trivial.)


Application

Make a resolution to apply your Lenten sacrifices to fighting the temptation that troubles you the most.2nd Sunday of Lent Gen. 15:5-12,17-18 Phil. 3:17-4:1 Lk. 9:28-36

The land promised to Abram's descendants is shown to be not merely the geographical land of Palestine but that glorious heaven of which we are citizens even now, and of which the Transfigured Jesus gives us a glimpse.

3rd Sunday of Lent Ex. 3:1-8, 13-15 1 Col. 10:1-6, 10-12 Lk. 13:1-9

St. Paul reminds us that the events of the Exodus foreshadow our own sacramental life in the Church. Having received Baptism and Eucharist, we have a greater responsibility than the fig tree of Israel to bear good fruit for the Master.

4th Sunday of Lent Is. 66:10-11 Josh. 5:9, 10-12 Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32

Israel had to do 40 years of penance in the desert before God would lift "the reproach of Egypt" from them; we profess in our 40 days of Lent that we are prodigals too and in need of penance to become the "new creation" about which St. Paul speaks.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Innerst, Sean. "Lead Us Not into Temptation." Lay Witness (March 2001).

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine.

Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

Copyright © 2001 LayWitness




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.