Sunday, February 14, 2016

he departed from him until an opportune time

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

We have now entered into the holy and penitential season of Lent, a time where we reflect deeply on our Lord's journey to Jerusalem and his passion and death on the cross; a time of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving where we prayerfully discipline the body so that we may master the passions that lead us into spiritual danger, causing us to sin, and thereby risking our heavenly reward. The season is modeled on our Lord's 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness; and so it is natural today that our Gospel reading consists of one of the accounts we have of that time given to us in Sacred Scripture.

Our account today is from St Luke; and what a marvelously detailed and rich description of those 40 days it is, particularly of the temptations faced by our Lord. Indeed, I have often thought that one could profitably construct an entire series of Lenten reflections, one for each day of the season, based on these verses and still be far from having exhausted the potential of what is to be drawn from them. 

Perhaps that is because of the unique source of these events. All other details of the life of Christ that we have in the Gospels come from various human witnesses. The Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph provided the information that gave us the infancy narratives; the apostles and other disciples were witnesses to this teaching, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. But for his time in the wilderness there were no witnesses to share what they saw for Christ went there alone. This means that the only possible source for this information is Jesus himself; and that he thought it important enough to share with his followers. 

More, he must have thought it essential, for the Gospels record no other moments of his life for which he and he alone only could be the source. There are nearly thirty years between his birth and his baptism about which we know nothing – only the account of his finding in the Temple, for whom his blessed Mother is surely the source – and this alone of all possible memories is the one he chooses to share with us.

Perhaps he does so because he knew this episode in his life would teach us many things. It tells us that if our Lord, the perfect man, felt it necessary to spend much time in prayer and fasting, then how much more do we, who are so weak and frail? It teaches us that it is not sinful to be tempted, knowing that our Lord was both tempted and without sin; it is only by giving into those temptations that we transgress God's holy laws. 

It speaks to us of the evil of the devil and the wicked desire he has to lead all men astray, away from God and to instead to eternal damnation. It shows quite graphically the misuses that holy scripture can be put to and how even God's word can be abused to lead men astray; and Christ, by his re-assertion of his authority over the interpretation of scripture shows the importance of orthodox interpretation.

These are but a few of the things we learn from this passage. There are many more we could speak of were there time. But let us consider just one more, one that is of particular relevance, I think, during this season of Lent. It concerns the final detail at the end of St Luke's account, and one that he alone of all the gospel writers records. And it is this: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.  Our Lord's temptations did not end in the wilderness; or, at least, the devil's intention to try and tempt him further did not end there. 

Satan, this tells us, is relentless; and he will lose no opportunity to try and lead someone into sin, even when that someone is the Son of God. Christ, the second person of the blessed Trinity, could not of course give way to sin. But we are mere human beings; how can we resist such a relentless onslaught of temptations, not just from Satan, but also the world and the flesh?

First, we have God's grace and the strength he offers us through the sacraments of his Church, given to us by Christ's passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. But we also have the example of Christ's life; not only his perfect obedience to the will of the Father, but also in the time of prayer and fasting we hear of in today's gospel. This brings us back to what I spoke of at the beginning: how the physical disciplining of our bodies, the denying ourselves things that are permitted, strengthens the will and helps us control the passion so that we may resist the temptation to do those things that are against God's law, avoid dwelling in our minds on things that are not wholesome, and have the strength to do those things which are challenging but nonetheless we are called to do.

I pray that all here will have a holy Lent by following the pattern our Lord set for us of prayer and fasting and with God's grace you will grow stronger day by day in the faith that Christ died to give us; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

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