LET THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEART, BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT O LORD MY STRENGTH AND MY REDEEMER
FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS
“Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
In today’s Gospel reading from St Matthew we hear the story of Jesus going into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights during which time he is tempted by the devil. All three Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to stress the immediacy with which Jesus went into the wilderness following his baptism by John the Baptist “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” says St. Mark (Mark 1:12). But the devil did not tempt Jesus immediately, he waited until he thought Jesus was at his weakest point. It is one of the truths of life that after every great moment there comes a moment of reaction and it is in this period of reaction that the danger lies. The temper always carefully, subtly and skillfully chooses his time to attack.
The experience that Jesus had in the wilderness was a struggle that went on in his own heart, mind and soul. The tempter launched his attack against Jesus along three lines. There was the temptation to turn stones into bread. The desert was littered with little round pieces of limestone rock which were exactly like little loaves of bread. After forty days alone in the wilderness any of us might have thought they were bread. This was a temptation to Jesus to use his powers selfishly and for his own purpose. Next the tempter through a vision took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple. From this point there was a shear drop of 450 feet into the valley of the Kedron and certain death waited anyone who fell from this point. But imaging how amazed people would have been if Jesus had jumped and not only lived but walked away unhurt. Only God could save someone from such certain death and people would have followed someone who could do a thing like that. The tempters third avenue of attack was to put into Jesus mind a picture of the world HE had come to save. Then in a tempting voice the devil said “fall down and worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world.” And Jesus answer was “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus was able to fend off the temptation because he knew in his heart, mind and soul that God would provide and protect him. Jesus did not know how but he had faith in God’s promise.
I am sure none of us has spent forty days and forty nights alone in the wilderness but I am equally sure that we have all been tempted by the devil at some point in our life. That temptation can be as simple as a voice inside us that says ‘Oh go ahead and have that bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce, whip cream and candy sprinkles’ even though we know we really need to watch our diet. Jesus was tempted to use his gifts. He could have easily turned the stones into bread using the gifts God had given him. God has given each of us a gift, and we can ask ourselves one of two questions; ‘What can I make for myself out of this gift?’ or ‘What can I do for others with this gift of mine?’ A person may for example have the gift of a great singing voice and decide to cash in on it by refusing to sing unless they are paid to do so. There is no reason why that person should not use their talent for payment, but there is every reason why payment should not be the only reason for sharing their gift with others. Temptation can come at us in many different ways and in different forms from a simple voice in our heads to decisions we make like not singing unless somebody pays us money.
So how do we guard against temptation? God has provided us with help in two ways. First we have the word of God as recorded in the Bible. Remember that Jesus answered the tempter in the very words that that God has sought to teach his people, that one ‘does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 8:3). From the word of God we get things like the Ten Commandments and the lessons in both the old and new testaments. God expects us to read the word and to learn from it so we can make the right decision when we are tempted. For this reason we should read the entire bible every year. Secondly, Jesus did not leave us alone in our struggle against temptation “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,” (John 14:26). Remember the voice that was tempting you to get a bowl of ice cream and then a second voice that reminded you that you really need to watch your diet. You have learned that the bowl of ice cream is not good for your diet and that second voice you heard is the one that “brings all things to your remembrance”.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is telling us what he went through during his forty days in the wilderness hoping that by knowing this it will help us when we are tempted. During these next forty days, your forty days in the wilderness, your challenge is not to give into the tempter, to listen to the Comforter and do a random act of kindness for someone using your gift while expecting nothing in return. May the Grace of God be always with you. Amen.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN