Gospel Commentary on 1st Sunday of Lent, cycle A

The Gospel – Matthew 4: 1-11

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert immediately after his baptism.  “This is my beloved, on whom my favor rests.”  Notice that these words of total acceptance by God are spoken before Jesus had done anything of great significance.  This is critical to realize and remember as we enter our own times of wandering in life’s deserts (Wandering with God, Feb. 1993, p. 8)

Why would the Spirit drive Jesus out into the desert, especially now after what just happened?  In Mark, it says, “the Spirit immediately drove him out,” (Mark 1:12).Did Spirit know what would happen there?  It sounds a little harsh, at first glance.  But Spirit is not way outside of ourselves.  Spirit is within.  It is our deepest inner desire that calls us outward.  So Spirit was driving Jesus out to the desert because that is where Jesus wanted to be.  Jesus wanted that space to himself.  He needed the stillness.  His ministry lay before him.  He had a lot to figure out.  He needed to keep it simple.  He needed less.  Intentions were good.  Satan seemed to have other plans, though.

The word, Satan, has been used in scripture to mean many things: the talebearer, the accuser, the seducer, the one or the thing that separates us from God, that which brings or likes darkness.  What do you make of the use of Satan here?  (“the Perspective of Justice,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )  THE DEVIL is the personification of the wrong view of life, the wrong use of power, the wrong use of language.  His way is a lie; it is false.

FASTING can be a form of prayer for God’s help when making a difficult decision.  The act of fasting redirects the heart away from worldly activities and towards the remembrance of God.  Jesus was faced with a life-changing decision, so he fasted, helping himself be open to God’s word and guidance.  From what can we fast that could help us hear God more clearly?

Jesus was tested in the desert. But even there he continued to listen to his Abba’s words and to trust in his love over possessions, honor, pride. Jesus held on to the great love of his life. This Lent let us try to be again more like Jesus. May we re-balance our priorities. Jesus recommends this way: “Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”  (John Foley, S/J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The tempter beckons Jesus to choose a new center for his life instead of God:  power (bread into stones), influence and control (throw self off temple), and exalted recognition bought at the price of false worship (all these kingdoms can be yours).  Jesus lives in fidelity to who he is:  gifted for responsible choices.  He refuses the “easy way out,” which leads away from fuller human life.  What are some important choices you had to make this week?  Why is the desert necessary for full human living?  (Breaking Open the Work of God, cycle A, p. 43-44)

Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:

  1. His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
  2. He is called to serve, not to be served.
  3. He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.

The word for tempt here in Greek is peirazein, which actually means “to test”.  Here is a great and uplifting truth. What we call temptation is not meants to makeus sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin.  It is not means to make us bad, it is meant to make us good.  It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal.  Temptation is not the penalty of being a human, temptation is the glory of being a human.  It is the test which comes to a person whom God wishes to use.  So, then, we must think of this whole incident, not so much the tempting of Jesus, as the testing of Jesus  (Barclay, Daily Bible Study Series, p. 63).

Other thoughts from Barclay:

  • We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts.  It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be for ever on the watch.
  • No one can ever read this story without remembering that its source must have been Jesus himself.  It is Jesus telling us his own spiritual autobiography.
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