If You Are the Son of God
First Sunday of Lent. Fr Denis Geraghty preaches on the temptations of Christ.
Luke 4:1-12 is a splendid opening for the First Sunday of Lent, and Luke intends it to be an exercise in the self-disclosure of Jesus to the world.
Jesus is revealed to us as ‘being full of the Holy Spirit,’ presumably a reference to his baptism, when the Holy Spirit ‘descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove.’ People who wonder how Jesus could be tempted when he was sinless have their answer. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given him to withstand his ‘testing,’ so that there can be no question of undermining his sinlessness.
So we come to his self-disclosure: Jesus was ‘fed by the Holy Spirit and ate no human food’ but, being human, he was famished. When the devil asked him to turn a stone into bread he was not asking Jesus to perform some cheap circus trick. He was tempting Jesus to break his fast, to suggest that he could only be sustained by human food. That is why, quoting Deuteronomy, the devil was told that man does not live by bread alone.
The second tempting of Jesus becomes ‘cosmic.’ The Devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world and tells him that he may have their authority and glory if Jesus would only fall down and worship the devil. This is a blatant lie because they were not his to give. That is why Jesus, again quoting Deuteronomy, dismisses his pretentions: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only will you serve.’
In the final temptation Jesus is asked to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple, in the belief that God will protect him from harm. The devil, who himself quotes scripture, is then told: ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’
So then, what is disclosed to us for reflection during Lent? The devil begins his tempting with the phrase: ‘If you are the Son of God.’ The perennial question posed to us by the Gospels is: who is this Jesus? The temptations of Jesus face us with this question in the form of a sermon, which the temptations surely are.
Given the Spirit at baptism, we are to reflect that it is our spiritual lives in God that will sustain us: ‘We cannot live by bread alone.’ A challenge to the materialist culture of our day which is easy to be sucked into. That is why the rich are condemned in St Luke’s Gospel; not because they are rich, but because they see in wealth a security that can only come from God. The final temptation continues the theme. It is not simply about the abuse of power and riches: it is a thundering denunciation of the descent into idolatry that their worship implies. This is personified by the devil, who is a liar – true worship is the worship of God and, according to John, the devil ‘is a murderer from the beginning.’
The point about idols is that ‘we know their names.’ We feel we can manipulate them and be in control of them. So we must not turn God into an idol by putting him to the test. All this is surely why this passage is such a splendid opening for Lent, as it faces us with the truth about Jesus and how life is to be lived at the deepest level of our being – it is then about the self-disclosure of Jesus to us and our gift of the Spirit who will sustain us in all the ‘testing’ of our lives.