Time-Tested Bait – Willy Samson, SJ

Matthew 4:1-11, First Sunday of Lent

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. We continue our 40 days of prayerful reflection and consideration of our struggles against the power of evil in our daily life. Like Jesus, we have our own bouts with evil and his temptations. With contrite heart, we do have our failures against temptation. The season of Lent is a time to beg God for forgiveness for our sins and do something to strengthen our will to resist temptations.

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In our Gospel today, the devil knew Jesus was hungry, weak, and vulnerable after 40 days of fasting in the desert. He seized the opportunity and tempted Jesus with his “Time-tested baits” – RICHES, HONOR AND POWER; but Jesus easily overcame the three temptations because of his great devotion to His Father and his knowledge of the scriptures.

After the evil left Jesus, the angel came and consoled Jesus. In the original Greek, the phrase “the devil left him” was in the historic present tense. It indicates lack of  permanence, that is, the devil would later return again to further tempt Jesus (Luke 4:13).
And true to enough, the devil returned again to tempt Jesus with vengeance. How? This time, by threatening his life – our most important treasure. First, through the PERSECUTION, by agitating the Pharisees and unbelievers, which will lead to Jesus’ arrest. Second, through the temptations to ABANDON GOD’S WILL during his trials by RUNNING AWAY FROM CARRYING THE CROSS AND DYING IN CRUCIFIXION. Third, even when he was dying on the cross, where he was most vulnerable, HE WAS HUMILIATED AND CURSED by many, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40).

Somehow, these are echoes of the devil’s words: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3) and “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you.” (Matthew 4:6). But Jesus was determined to finish his mission. RUNNING AWAY FROM THE CROSS WAS NOT HIS OPTION. And his determination to embrace his cross led him to his death on the cross. Yet, at the end of the story, God saw his Son’s faithfulness, and so He vindicated Jesus and proved his detractors wrong by resurrecting him after three days.
Our own experiences confirm our struggle against the lure of evil spirits. The temptation of riches, honor and pride will always be there and will never stop until we are buried six feet under the ground. The devil will never raise his white flag on us and give up – FOR THE DEVIL HATES A HAPPY ENDING. We can win against evil and its temptations. The devil may leave us for a while, but he will come again to tempt us, especially during our most vulnerable moments when our life and our loved ones are threatened.

THE DEVIL KNOWS US IN AND OUT. He knows how to hold our neck and control us! That’s why it is necessary for us, especially this lenten season, to know our weakness and most vulnerable spots of our spirit.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his rules for the discernment of spirits, explicitly stated the STRATEGY OF THE EVIL SPIRIT: “The conduct of our enemy may be compared to the tactics a commander of an army. They will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.” (Spiritual Exercises, 326). The devil knows us well, he knows our spiritual waterloo. Therefore we need to fortify and guard our weaknesses, limitations and vulnerabilities.

Jesus knew that he could not defeat evil by compromising with evil. The devil’s temptation is always attractive and hard to resist – the standards of the world. Thus Jesus proposed the BEATITUDES (Matthew 5:1-12) for our spiritual fortification to counteract the devil’s powerful temptations. Jesus laid down the non-compromising values of the Christian faith and fought for them – even if it means dying on the cross.

Jesus was very determined against temptation, for he found his real treasure – The love of God the Father. For when one finds his treasure, everything becomes secondary. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21).

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