161. First Victory (Luke 4:1-13)

“When temptation comes, turn straight to God, and he will help you.” – St. Leonard of Port Maurice

Luke 4:1-13: Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf’. But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone’. Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’ Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said to him, ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says: He will put his angels in charge of you to guard you, and again: They will hold you up on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.

Christ the Lord  Jesus’ temptation in the desert, which the liturgy locates in the first Sunday of Lent, vividly reminds us that Christ came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Since the dawn of time, the devil had mastered the human heart, leading every man and woman more or less into the tangle of selfishness and sin, encouraging them to use power to procure pleasure, to compromise principles for the sake of popularity, and to disobey the voice of conscience in favor of convenience. But Christ was too much for him. In this first combat, the devil tried “every way of putting him to the test,” but they glanced off Jesus like so many plastic darts. The almost irresistible lure of temptation that causes such anguish and struggle in us has no power over our Lord. Staying close to him, therefore, leaning on him and filled with his grace, we can experience the victory over sin. In him we can attain freedom from slavery to our own evil tendencies. Christ indeed is the Lord, and he has come to conquer. If we follow him, we will share the spoils.

Christ the Teacher  By letting himself be tempted, Jesus teaches us how the devil works, and how to overcome him. The devil appeals to our selfish tendencies in order to draw us away from God. We all desire physical pleasure and comfort (“Tell this stone to turn in to a loaf”), but sometimes we need to subordinate that desire to a higher ideal (“Man lives not on bread alone”). We all desire to be self-sufficient, to have power to do whatever we want whenever we want, free from natural limitations (“I shall give you all this power”), but only God is self-sufficient. Our existence depends on him – we need him to sustain and guide us (“God alone you must serve”). We all desire recognition, popularity, and praise (a swan dive from the Temple parapet would have won Jesus instant fame), but these are no substitute for the true meaning and happiness given by humble friendship with God; it’s not worth risking the latter to gain the former (“You must not put the Lord your God to the test”). The devil wants us to keep “self” in the center of our lives, so that we feed our egoism and eventually become a moral black hole. But as long as we keep God at the center, “seeking first the Kingdom,” we will be safe from his wiles.

The devil doesn’t change his agenda of temptations as the years go by, because he knows that human nature stays the same. For the same reason, the three great Christian virtues of poverty, obedience, and chastity (lived most fully by those called to the religious or consecrated life) are always in season as antidotes to the tempter’s poison.

Christ the Friend Jesus Christ was tempted, and so he redeemed temptation. What a relief! Now we know that our own temptations can give glory to God. We know that feeling the attraction of evil and the tug of selfishness is no cause for despair; rather it provides an opportunity to exercise our love. Every time we resist a temptation, we extend the Kingdom of God, winning back territory from the devil. Christ didn’t come to exempt us from spiritual combat, but to give us strength to fight valiantly for his cause. He is the great champion, and he invites us to battle at his side, sharing in his sufferings and his triumphs. He has become one of us, so as to make us just like him.

Christ in My Life You conquered sin and evil. You want to extend your conquest into every human heart. I intercede for all those hearts that resist you. Lord, convince them of your goodness! Make them trust in you! Wash them in your mercy, and make my life a billboard for the power of your love…

What interests you most is what happens in my heart. The world and other people see only appearances; I can fool them. You see the decisions that determine my character and the direction of my moral journey. You are interested in that, because you want me to choose to spend eternity in your palace in heaven, with Mary and all the saints, on the everlasting adventure…

Mary, you know that sometimes I get tired of the battle and simply want to rest. I know you humbled yourself every day, conquering sin with the grace you had received and living solely for Christ in spite of discomfort, obstacles, and opposition. You are the school of every virtue. Teach me to persevere in my mission, as you did, until the very end…. And doing so you showed me that life on earth is not mean to be a cakewalk, but a mission. Thy will be done, Lord; you can count on me…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Jesus Tempted, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 19th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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