At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Mt 4:1). Jesus experienced the temptations of Satan, the one who tempted Adam and Eve, the father of lies, the accuser, the slanderer. Satan and his demons seek division and we dismiss the reality of their presence at great risk. On the other hand, we often give them more power than they deserve. Jesus was tempted directly by Satan himself, but unlike Adam and Eve, he did not give in. Jesus remained grounded in the will of his Father and this is why he no power over him.
Jesus could have dismissed Satan, yet he endured his temptation to teach us “how to triumph over temptation” (St Augustine 1976, 87). Through the power of Jesus, he empowers us to overcome Satan and do the same. The weakest Christian is more powerful than Satan himself because we can call on the name of Jesus. This is not some magic incantation, but when we call on the name of Jesus, he, in the fullness of his humanity and his divinity, is present with us. God has given Jesus the name above every other name so that as his word is spoken, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth (cf. Philippians 2:9-10). Just as a floodlight shines in the darkness, the darkness gives way to the light. This is even truer with Jesus. Where Jesus is present there is love, such that no fear or evil can remain.
I had a dream some time ago, I am not sure how long now, but it is still just as vivid. I was sitting on a couch on the first floor of a house. The scene shifted as I witnessed myself sitting from above sitting on the same couch and then my view was redirected to the attic. I spied a misshapen, dark figure rummaging through old boxes and newspapers. Typing this, I can still hear the rustling in my ears. This figure embodied pure evil. I was petrified as I felt the depth of evil present and then I was back in my body, sitting on the couch, and I knew this creature was now moving out of the attic and coming down the stairs to the room I was sitting in. My heart was pounding as I heard its steps drawing closer. I was frozen in fear. In a few more moments, he came into view. What I saw was not the misshapen figure in the attic, but a handsome man. As he continued closer my fear increased, I knew he was the same creature, and I was afraid he was going to touch me. Then a hymn came to mind. He stopped the moment I began to sing, my fear began to dissipate and I woke up.
Evil tends to present itself at first as an apparent good, as attractive, as normal. Otherwise, we would reject the temptation outright. Satan and his demons are active through whispers and nudges, they look for our weaknesses and through the same tactics as peer pressure, seek to inject their poison and manipulate our actions. I am not talking about possession here, I am just talking about their divisive influence. The most dangerous evil is the one masked in faith. Someone who can speak the verses of a Bible and quote chapter and verse does not a Christian make. The devil can do the same thing as we saw in today’s Gospel from Matthew when he tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple.
This Lent we can embrace the opportunity to examine our conscience and assess honestly who we are serving. As with the Parable of the Talents, we cannot sit on our hands and do nothing like the wicked servant. That is the most effective tool Satan has, that he can influence us to do nothing, to be indifferent in the face of the dehumanization of the person in all of its forms. Another horror is when we rationalize what we know is unacceptable in ourselves as well as others, such as giving in to the temptations of gossip, prejudicial, and/or divisive talk, that lead to actions, such as the centurions who placed a robe and crown of thorns on the bloody, scourged body of Jesus and mocked him.
May we see this icon of Jesus, scourged, bloody, wearing a crown of thorns, and mocked in our minds eye whenever we are tempted to or justify anyone who would, even in the smallest of ways, belittle, demean or degrade the dignity of another person, through thoughts, words, and/or actions. We need to remember that what we do to the least among us, we do it to Jesus (cf. Mt 25:35-45). We need to also resist the temptation of beating ourselves up when we have sinned because that is another trap, another lie. This is so because we are still focused on ourselves, still caved in within ourselves, instead of opening up to the love of God and one another. God does not define us by our sin and our worst mistakes. As Pope Francis has said, God never tires of forgiving us, we tire of asking for forgiveness.
We need to assess our day, our thoughts, actions, and words with honesty and humility. Thank God where we have said yes to his will and followed through on acting where he has led us, where we have loved. We need not fear God but just remember to ask him for forgiveness for the part we have played in spreading the darkness of the father of lies. We leave less room for the allurements of Satan when we keep ourselves grounded not in ourselves, but in the will and love of God, just as Jesus did in the desert. When tempted, we can call on his name or sing:
“Trust in Jesus, my great Deliverer, my strong Defender, the Son of God. I trust in Jesus Blessed Redeemer, my Lord forever, the Holy One, the Holy One” (Chorus from Third Day’s song, “I Trust in Jesus”).
Photo: Jesus covered with purple robe and crown of thorns, side chapel in the Mission San Luis del Rey de Francis, Oceanside, CA
Quote from St. Augustine in The Liturgy of the Hours. New York: The Catholic Publishing Co., 1976.
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, March 1, 2020