First Sunday of Lent. fr Matthew Jarvis shows us how to follow the example of Jesus Christ in this season of Lent.
‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ These are fitting words to end the Lord’s Prayer. They summarise of all our petitions, for the basic prayer we make is, ‘Save us!’ But at a deeper level, these are words which Jesus Christ taught us in order to bring us into his life. Just as we begin the Lord’s Prayer and call God ‘our Father’ on the strength of our adoptive sonship in Christ, so in the end we can pray confidently against temptation and evil thanks to Christ’s having shared his life fully with us. For the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us, and submitted to temptation and suffering, even to the point of death on the Cross.
That Jesus is tempted is thus a sign and measure of his full solidarity with our human condition. ‘For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning’ (Heb. 4:15). Jesus Christ is perfect man as well as perfect God, the one who suffers temptation yet fully overcomes it. He is the New Adam, who refashions human nature back into conformity with the beautiful plan of God’s intention. This New Adam faces the Tempter not in the garden of Eden, but in the desert. He is offered not forbidden fruit, but a dull stone. But the temptation is the same: to grab power like God’s, to be one’s own master, and (why not?) master of the world. But Jesus, already knowing good and evil, refuses to exercise his divine power for his own selfish benefit. This is the humility of the Incarnation: ‘though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:6-7).
Jesus knows good: he knows the will of his good Father in heaven, he knows the goodness of God who gives his people bread in the desert. indeed, the manna is among the ‘signs and wonders’ that Moses speaks of in our first reading, a kind of early creed for the people of God redeemed from slavery in Egypt. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone…’ The original verse continues: ‘but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Deut. 8:3; cf. Mt. 4:4). Jesus, as fully man, must live on bread. But, as the incarnate Word that comes from the mouth of God, his divine life is drawn from the Father: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 4:34). Christ is ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and so perfectly in tune with the will of his Father. His fast in the desert is not some superhuman feat. As Chrysostom observes, Jesus did not exceed the forty days’ fast of Moses or Elijah, lest we think him to be some kind of superman, or a god only pretending to be human.
Jesus also knows evil: he recognises the devil as the Evil One, the Father of Lies. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer could equally validly be translated: ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.’ The Lord could teach us this prayer because he himself had faced the Evil One, and overcome him.
We, too, know good and evil, and we should train ourselves especially to look for the good. Ultimately, we see perfect goodness in Jesus Christ, whom we know by faith, whom we meet in the Scriptures, in the Church, and in our brothers and sisters.
Let us then refuse the devil and confess that ‘Jesus is Lord’. St Paul reassures us that this word of faith is close to us, on our lips and in our heart. At our baptism we were signed with the Cross on our lips and over our heart, marking where the word of faith was taking root. This closeness of the word of faith is made possible by the fact that the Word himself has come close to us. He is our bridge from this world of decay and frustration to the realm of blessedness, where the will of God brings all into perfect harmony. He has become this bridge by sharing our life fully, not least by the sweat and tears of his human suffering, here in the desert, later in the garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately on the Cross. At Calvary, it seemed the devil had won. As we begin our own forty days in the desert of Lent, it may seem that our perennial (and often half-hearted) efforts at holiness will end in similar defeat. But we Christians know that the story does not end in defeat, because Jesus is Lord.
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10|Romans 10:8-13|Luke 4:1-13
The image used above is a detail from a window in Chartres Cathedral.