"True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a
deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise." (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #47.)

 

 

Gospel for First Sunday in Lent (March 9 2014)

Notes on the Gospel

JGospelThen Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’.”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’.”

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’.”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

(Matthew 4:1-11 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

1.                  See similar texts in Mark 1:12–13 and Luke 4:1–13.

2.                  The reference to the founding event of the Exodus is unmistakable:

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

As a rule of thumb we can say: In the Hebrew Scriptures, nothing is written before the Exodus Event, everything is written after it and in the light of it. In the Christian Scriptures, nothing is written before the New Exodus Event, everything is written after it and in the light of it.

3.                  In the first sentence, Matthew, like Luke, uses the Greek word diabolos, here translated as “the devil”. In the third sentence, while Luke sticks to the Greek word diabolos, Matthew uses the word peirazōn, “the tester” or “the tempter”. Towards the end of the temptations, Matthew has Jesus identify diabolos and peirazōn as “Satan”. “Satan” is a name, not just a descriptive term. That name used in Job 1-2 (where Job is tested), Zechariah 3:1-2 (where Joshua is tested) and 1 Chronicles 21:1 (where David is tested). The testing in each instance – Jesus’ temptations included – has an adversarial quality to it. However, it is evident in the Hebrew Scriptures that “Satan” remains under God’s ultimate control.

The mystery of evil in our world remains that – a mystery. It is tempting to either simplify it as the Manicheans did in the 4th century or to use it to deny God – how could there be a loving God when there is so much pain and suffering etc. The first temptation has found its way into the Christian consciousness – perhaps largely under the influence of St Augustine with the help of Michelangelo and built on by popular pieties such as that associated with Fatima. If I was in charge of evil in the world I would be happy with both those outcomes because they both obscure and diminish the role of human freedom and responsibility. They also obscure and perhaps dismiss the paradoxical truth that human beings show their best when they are tested.

Our text

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’.”

The first two temptations begin with the phrase that is clearly meant to sow doubt in Jesus’ mind as to his identity: “If you are …” This is perhaps the greatest of the temptations.

When Jesus stands his ground – is perhaps helped to stand his ground by having to withstand the testing – the final temptation is blatant: “ … fall down and worship me” In other words, exchange the Kingdom of God for the kingdom of evil. And the evil is not found as such in the kingdoms of the world but in the foregoing of the real Kingdom. That foregoing is inherent in the chilling phrase, “worship me”.

The core issue here is identity: who is Jesus? If Jesus is distracted or derailed, if he seeks to be who and what he is not, his mission collapses. His identity and his mission are one.

Two of the fundamental questions we all ask, implicitly or explicitly, are, “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” It is best if we do ask those questions explicitly and deliberately because there are many forces at work to distract us from who and what we are, forces that may have us seeking a fictional self.

The questioning involves much listening. Stay away from introspective analysis. Face what must be faced. Above all, do not lie to yourself.

The Hasidic master, Rebbe Mendel of Kotzk said: “If I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.” (Cited by Abraham Twerski, Successful Relationships at Home, at Work and with Friends: Bringing Issues Under Control, Shaar Press, 2003, 89.))

Michael Whelan SM