Jesus’ wilderness experience teaches us to cling to Him
This weekend the Holy Roman Catholic Church celebrates the first week of Lent. The Gospel reading for this weekend is a very popular one that always makes me smile. This time however, there are a couple lines that jumped out at me. There were two instances when the devil was tempting Jesus by challenging who He is with the words, “if you are the Son of God . . . I have never really noticed that phrase before but hearing it this weekend made me realize the trick that the devil has played on so many of our young people.First off, this Gospel reading starts with Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Under normal circumstances, no one will want to stage being tempted by the devil – no one in their right mind that is. However in Jesus’ case, he was led by the Spirit and wherever and whenever the Spirit is leading us, we will always be alright as long as we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. You can be quite sure that if we are following the promptings of the Holy Spirit and something seemingly bad happens, it is because God is going to make His glory seen and known, while He takes care of us in the situation. So we need not worry.
So Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil doesn’t worry me. After all it is Jesus, the Son of the Most High God we are dealing with. The lines that concern me as mentioned earlier, is where the devil said to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God do. . .” Isn’t this the same trick that the devil has done very effectively on so many of our brothers and sisters? What he does is sow seeds of doubt into our hearts and minds. In the first reading we see that he did this very effectively with Eve. Eve new oh too well what God had said about the trees in the garden. So too did the devil – the great deceiver. Yet he came to her sowing seeds of doubt with the question, “did God really say you should not eat from the trees in the garden? See what he did?! He distorted the truth! The devil knew very well what God told Adam and Eve about the trees in the garden and that it was from a specific tree that God told them not to eat. It is the same thing he was trying with Jesus, undoubtedly knowing that yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but also knowing very well that Jesus chose not to cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to truly become one like us except in sin. So the devil was appealing to Jesus’ humanity, but (ha ha) failed. You see, even though Jesus did not cling to his equality with God by choice, he’d never distanced himself from the Father. Jesus and the Father are one. (Ref. John 17:21) Herein lies a very powerful secret of how we are to conquer the devil by conquering sin in our lives – abide in Jesus. Jesus said,
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me and him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown in the fire, and they are burnt. (Ref. John 15: 5 – 7)
So how are some of the ways that many people give in to the temptations of the devil? I remember a story that was told by a very dear friend of mine. While he was still going to secondary school, he and his father would greet each other with a kiss. One day he had a couple of friends over and his dad came home. His father proceeded to greet him as they normally would. He became very conscious of this in front of his friends and when they had left, he said to his father, “Dad, don’t you think we are too old for this?” To which his father responded, “Son, if you really think we are too old to show our love for one another then sure we can stop. If however you are embarrassed because of what your friends may think, then maybe you need to find new friends.”
My friend said that after his father shared that with him, his whole perspective on it changed, and to this day, when he and his father meet, regardless of where, they greet each other with a kiss.
The devil comes at us through pride, a weakness that we all have. ‘You and your father still hug! You must be a little boy.’ ‘Your mother still walks you to school?! When will you grow up?’ ‘You still in this church thing? That is for them old people who don’t have anything better to do!’
Many of our young male teenagers have been fooled by the devil into thinking that to show love is to be a sissy. Many of our young people are being fooled by the devil into thinking that virginity is not only impossible but it is stupid and that they need to get with the program. Everyone else is doing it!
The devil is fooling many, many people into confusing their sexuality. He is showing them a world where seemingly everybody is doing what they want with their bodies; after all it’s their body. That’s a lie and a great great deception! If we are not in Christ Jesus, we will fall for all the lies and deception of the devil.
There are countless other lies and deception that the gods of this world connivingly seduce many of our youth and many of our people with. If we do an examination of ourselves; of our consciences, I am sure that we will be able to identify all of these lies. The question here is how do we come out of that wilderness experience like Jesus did? How can we teach or help our youth to come out of their wilderness experience the way that Jesus did? How can we help them to see that anything outside of Christ is wilderness and wilderness of the worst kind!? The answer to that question is that with God, all things are possible. The challenge and the harsh reality is that many of our people do not have an experience of God in their lives; and so what we see as temptation and sin is a living reality of life for them. Without that knowledge and that experience of the love of God, they cannot see that where they are is in fact a wilderness that will destroy them. They may experience pain as a result of their choices but they do not understand why.
One of the greatest things that we can do for them is to pray, pray for them. Saint Paul in one of his letters to the people of Corinth wrote,
“If the gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to Salvation, the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded to stop them from seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (Ref. 2 Corinthian 4: 3-4)
Our prayer therefore should be that the veil be removed from their eyes so that they may see what rich blessings God has in store for them. We have to be like other Christ for those in our society who do not know Christ. We have to love as He loved. We have to forgive as He forgave. We have to be merciful as He is merciful. It is the only way that our brothers and sisters who are lost in the wilderness of sin can find their way out. Again, St. Paul writes,
“It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing out this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God will appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is be reconciled to God.” ( Ref. 2 Corinthians 5: 18 – 20)
For many, Lent is about giving up things. I believe this gospel passage of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness challenges us, not to give up something but rather to pick up something; and what we take up is supporting each other and those who are not on their way to Salvation in prayer, so that they too might come out of the wilderness of sin, all to the honor and Glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.