Pride meets humility in the quiet of the desert Print
From the Diocesan Administrator
Written by Msgr. James Bartylla, Diocesan Administrator   
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
From the Diocesan Administrator column

On the First Sunday of Lent, in all three liturgical years of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we’re confronted with the account of Our Lord’s temptation in the desert by the devil.

This is a beautiful text, because in a way the history of the world was played out in a quiet desert, away from the busy cities, between God-made-man and the fallen angel.

The curtain is pulled back, and we get a peek at the supernatural world in the desert, which should fortify us as we enter the season of Lent and its disciplines.

Jesus’ patience with the devil

Jesus in strength went to the desert to be tempted, and in allowing the devil to tempt Him, He showed not weakness, but patience. The devil, in waiting until Jesus hungered, showed weakness not strength, and in leading the encounters of temptation, showed the prideful personality that led to his fall.

The devil starts small. The first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is the basic vice of gluttony against Jesus’ 40 days of fasting — “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Miracles don’t occur in the Bible as isolated demonstrations of God’s power, but as part of the work of redemption. The devil asks for a miracle that would only benefit Jesus, and which isn’t part of the plan of salvation.

This shows that we should ask God for things not for our own convenience, but for that which will lead us and others to holiness.

Jesus’ second temptation

In the second temptation (in Matthew’s Gospel), the stakes are raised.

The devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and asks Him to throw himself down to test whether God will save Jesus — it is the greater vice of vainglory against Jesus’ humble prayer in the desert.

Tradition suggests that this occurred at the extreme southeast corner of the temple wall, where the wall is at its highest point and the ground beneath slopes downward steeply.

Pope St. Gregory the Great said that if we consider how our Lord allowed himself to be treated during his passion, it isn’t surprising that he would allow the devil to treat him this way.

However, notice that the devil can quote Scripture to his own chilling, terrible advantage — “For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you . . .”

Beware of biblical interpretations

St. Augustine said that, “Holy Scripture is good, but heresies arise through its not being understood properly.”

We should be on guard, for biblical interpretations not in line with the teaching of the Church should be rejected.

Heresy, like the devil’s proposition to Jesus at the temple wall, often stresses one passage of Scripture to the exclusion of others and loses sight of the unity of the whole of Scripture as the Word of God.

In Jesus’ forbearance, He merely quotes Scripture back to the devil, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

He thereby, brings back the unity of Scripture. The devil is usually defeated in our own lives by the same patience, humility, and obedience that Our Lord demonstrated. Obedience is what the devil hates most.

Jesus follows God’s will

In the third temptation (in Matthew’s Gospel), the devil forthrightly makes the final, clear assault — in which the vice of avarice encounters the virtue of almsgiving in which Our Lord defers His Kingship.

This temptation is the most messianic, because Jesus is urged to appropriate to himself the role of an earthly king that was widely expected at the time.

Here Jesus replies the most vigorously to the devil, by stating, “Begone Satan!”

We should learn from Jesus’ attitude that He didn’t even want the glory that rightly belonged to Him; indeed, eventually all nations will assuredly and finally come under his majestic rule.

Our Lord had the right to be treated as God in that moment, but he took the form of a slave to follow God’s will for His earthly mission. The devil was too clever for his own good, and was defeated as the fool — by appealing directly to the notion of kingship, the devil opened himself up to the Kingly command of Jesus as God, “Get away Satan.”

Jesus defeats the devil

When Jesus was hungry, the devil tempted with food.

When Jesus quoted Scripture to the devil, the devil tempted Him with Scripture.

When Jesus confronted the devil about the evil of tempting God, the devil directly tempted God by asking for Jesus’ obedience and worship.

Jesus moved the devil subtly and progressively, through the devil’s own pride, to confront the truth of obedience, and the devil had to flee.

It’s been said the devil can feign humility, but he can’t feign obedience. Leadership in patience and obedience to truth wins over a leadership of cunning and pride.

It is a message of discernment for all of us as we approach Lent, so that the disciplines of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) can penetrate deeply into our hearts in greater obedience to Our Lord Jesus Christ.