A Meditation on Jesus’ Temptations

First Reading: Gn 9:8-15
Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: 1 Pt 3:18-22
Gospel: Mk 1:12-15

Where do we find sources of information that provide us with fresh
visions of life without making us feel that we’ll never fully
measure up to it? It is embodied in a simple message from Jesus
that we hear today, “Believe in the good news.”

What is this good news? We know that it is ultimately the fact that
Jesus himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity has come to
be one of us to redeem all of God’s creation. It is God’s ultimate
promise that has already been fulfilled in Jesus’ death and
resurrection. It presents us with an ideal of happiness, which is
both true and attainable. It does so by presenting us with who we
really are, and ought to become. It is available to all who are
ready to partake in his community of discipleship.

And what is the image of who we truly are to become? It is really
becoming like Jesus himself. Jesus is the word of God. He himself
is the way to the Father – the way, the truth, and the life. So,
how do we partake in his life, his way? Today’s Gospel gives us
some hints.

Jesus was announced by his cousin John. John’s sole purpose was to
prepare the way for Jesus; John rejected any glory for himself. He
preached a conversion in preparation for Jesus. And he preached
humility; of him it could be said, “Like a bridegroom’s friend, who
wants all eyes focused on the bridegroom.” As disciples, we fix our
attention on Jesus.

But after his baptism by John, Jesus had to face temptations. The
longer accounts in Luke and Matthew tell us that he was tempted in
three ways. First, to ignore spiritual longing by feeding only his
bodily hunger. Second, to take on the power for its own sake, to be
independent from God and honored by others. Third, to be freed from
all vulnerability, symbolized by having the angels support him as he
fell from the parapet of the temple.

In refusing to give in to these temptations, Jesus reveals what our
true humanity is. We are to look beyond the present need to act for
the greater good.

The call to resist temptation goes hand in hand with our Lenten call
to penance. On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus’ instruction on the
penitential practices of prayer and fasting. But in some ways it’s
not clear why we should do penance. Why would we want to deny
ourselves good things that contribute to our well-being? Things
that we rightfully enjoy without going to excess?

Our meditation on Jesus’ temptations can help us to see that penance
is not denial for denial’s sake, but a kind of discipline. Penance
makes us more open to God’s word. By disciplining our bodies and
spirits, we can draw in God’s power to transform us in new ways
beyond the ordinary.

The purpose of Lenten practices, ultimately, is to deepen our belief
in the good news. It often seems that the command to “believe in
the good news” is easy to follow. Anyone can simply believe in
something. It is often thought that the “good works” part of our
faith is more difficult. But in many ways, belief is the more
difficult challenge.

What concretely do we have to believe in order to believe in the
good news? St. Augustine tells us that our God can bring good out
of any evil we might face. He can bring good even out of the
most “ordinary forms of evil,” such as our tendency to give up on
our spiritual goals, to strive only for wealth and worldly success,
or to despair that God is not with us as we feel the bodily and
spiritual weakness of aging or sickness. To believe in the good news
is to believe that God is Father to every person – and that he
created each person in his image and likeness. To believe in the
good news is to believe that we have an eternal destiny.

But we must always realize that this radical capacity to believe is
itself a gift. We can pray for it, but ultimately, it is God’s
gift. We can rejoice in it, because as God’s gift it reveals much
of who he is. And it reveals his love for us. We share in God’s
life, then, when we share in the many grace-filled gifts he bestows
upon us: our life, our commitments, our marriages, our families, our
jobs, and our friendships. All of these small communities of human
love mirror God’s love for us.

This Lent we take up the penance by which we can both appreciate and
deepen the good news even more. And we can begin or continue that
transformation of ourselves and of others that has Jesus as its
model.

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