The temptation of Jesus is the gospel reading for the first Sunday of lent each year. It is the basis for our Lent Tradition. However, the example that Jesus gives us is worth applying to our lives all year long.
Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit immediately following his Baptism. He has received his ‘calling’ from God and now he removes himself from the distractions of the world in order to pray and prepare himself for this mission. This is a powerful example for us whenever we are faced with an important decision or action. We are told that Jesus does not eat for the entire 40-day period.
There are many examples of fasting in the Bible and the church still encourages this practice. Fasting is a symbol of penance but it is also a sign of humility – a willingness to submit ourselves to God and trust in his care. It is an effective spiritual tool when combined with prayer.
The number 40 is significant in the Bible. It is a number that symbolizes eternity. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself for a ministry in which his redeeming sacrifice would last for all time. Noah, Elijah, Moses and the Israelites all spent 40 days (or years!) in their own time of spiritual cleansing.
Jesus is tempted by Satan during this time. Catholic teaching tells us that there are three types of temptation. External temptation occurs when one simply acknowledges the temptation but does not sin. This was Jesus’ experience. Internal temptation occurs when one considers the temptation and takes some pleasure in that. There is a degree of sinfulness in this. The final temptation is that to which we consent. This is always sinful.
The devil tempted Jesus in three ways; physical desire (turn these stones into bread), desire for glory (throw yourself down and the angels will catch you) and desire for power (worship me and I will give you the world). The devil’s objective was to entice Jesus to turn away from his divine role as the Son of God. The devil wants Jesus to reject God’s authority and claim power and glory for himself.
Jesus might have used his divine power to combat the devil but that would have set an example we could not follow. Instead, he used means available to us – prayer, fasting, watchfulness, not dialoguing with temptation, having the words of scripture on our lips and putting our trust in the Lord.