Facing temptation like Jesus, the triumphant second Adam

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1st Sunday of Lent, Year C: Feb. 20-21, 2010
Deut 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2, 10-15; Rom 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

How many times have we seen a hero fall? How many times have we seen someone in the public eye—someone who had seemed strong, noble, generous, principled—and then one day we find out that they have been corrupted; that they have been making secret backroom deals; that they embezzled, lied, cheated, stole; that they are addicted to drugs or alcohol; that they have betrayed their spouse or their children.

Perhaps only the young haven’t yet discovered, as one songwriter put it [Steve Taylor, “Hero”], “that illusions are bought / And the idol you thought you’d be was just another zero.” That in the quiet, hidden choices, that make all the difference, those seeming heroes fell; they crumbled, and down they went.

They fell like our first parents fell. We read in the Book of Genesis that Adam and Eve were created and placed in the beautiful Garden of Eden. And there was no sin or evil or suffering there, and they walked with the Lord, and they could eat the fruit of every tree of the garden. Well, every tree except—one. Just one! It seems kind of arbitrary, doesn’t it? Like God was setting up a confrontation, where Adam and Eve would face the serpent? And, you know, I think he was. But he wasn’t setting them up to fail; he was setting them up to succeed! If they had overcome the serpent’s temptation on that day like they were supposed to, what glories would have followed for the entire human race? But, of course, they didn’t succeed. They didn’t overcome. One tree; one fruit! But they couldn’t say no. They thought, as we read, that the tree was good for food, and pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom; and down they went.

And here we are. And down have gone so many others since then. Down, perhaps, have gone each of us, even if that never gets written on the front pages of newspapers.

Now isn’t that a depressing way to begin a homily! But it isn’t the end of the story. For as Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote in a hymn [“Praise to the Holiest in the Height”]:

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against their foe,
Should strive and should prevail…

We hear about that in our gospel reading today. It begins: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” And I suggest that, as we hear those words, we imagine it as Jesus stripping off his outer clothes to prepare for hand-to-hand combat against that long-time foe of the human race, and marching directly into the desert to set up another confrontation. We can almost hear him whispering, “Make my day!” Because this confrontation the second Adam was not going to lose.

But notice how he prepares for it. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. Just a few days ago, on Ash Wednesday, all of us between the ages of 18 and 59 fasted according to canonical guidelines, eating just one full meal and perhaps two partial ones—but definitely less food than normal. And at this Mass we have about 40 young people who went even further than that—who are participating in the Food Fast, and so for the past almost 24 hours haven’t eaten any solid food; and now they enter into their final hour of this Food Fast. How did that make us feel, on Wednesday or right now? Hungry, yes. Maybe weak; light-headed; a headache, maybe; distracted, not able to focus; irritable; just sort of fragile? We can easily believe that Jesus felt all of these things after 40 days of not eating. How could this be a good way to prepare for a confrontation with Satan?

St. Paul wrote in one of his letters that the Lord had said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness“; and therefore Paul found, “when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Cor 12:9-10]. The first Adam had relied on his own human strength and wisdom, and he fell. But the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, relied totally on his Father’s strength and wisdom, and he conquered.

Those 40 days he spent in the desert came directly after his baptism, which we heard about last month, on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord—when the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son.” And so these three temptations, these three tests, go right at that question: What does it mean that Jesus was the Son of God? And how was he going to live that out? Right to that question. Possibly the devil himself wasn’t quite sure of the answer to those questions, of what it meant that Jesus was the Son, and he wanted to find out: “Who is Jesus; what is Jesus; what is he going to do if I pose these temptations to him?” But whether he was wondering this or not, certainly it also was a way of sticking a knife right into a sensitive center of this question of Jesus’ own identity and mission, and to try to twist that great grace, to see whether he could somehow turn that into one more fall.

First: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Now, the devil doesn’t say that to us on a day like Ash Wednesday or the Food Fast, because we can’t do it. But Jesus could do it. We know he turned water into wine at Cana; we know that he miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed more than 4000, more than 5000. He did those things; and in those instances it was right for him to do it. Why not this time? Why not turn a stone into bread? Because it was not his Father’s plan for him to use that power, which he had, to feed just himself at that particular moment. Jesus answers the devil: “One does not live on bread alone“—quoting a verse in Deuteronomy [8:3] that then continues, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord. And so this second Adam, our Lord Jesus, said no to the use of his power to satisfy his physical needs, when it went against the word from his Father.

The second temptation the devil set out: “All this will be yours—all the power and glory of all the kingdoms of the worldif you worship me.” Wow. Jesus loved the world. He loved every person in the world, he had heard our cry, and he had come to save us. Why not this shortcut? All the power of all the kingdoms of the world, in his hands, right then: couldn’t he have done a lot of good with all that power? Couldn’t he have really addressed the suffering of people in the world? No need for a long road of suffering. All it would take was one small—and deadly—compromise. Think back. The first Adam had been made in the Image of God, and eating from that tree did not make him more like God; it made him a whole lot less; contrary to what the serpent said. The second Adam, our Lord Jesus, was King of kings and Lord of lords, and to him every knee will bend in worship and gratitude. What was the devil offering him? It only would have brought him down. And Jesus was not fooled. He replied: “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”

And so we come to the third temptation. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written”—and Satan quotes Scripture himself this time—the very words we sang in the psalm. Jesus had been quoting Scripture back to him all day, and Satan says, “Fine. You like Scripture? Here’s some Scripture. Your Father says he will protect you. So show me; show yourself; show the whole world in one glorious instant, so that they may believe.” And do you know, in one hidden instant, he did show what it meant to be the Son of God—because he said no. Because he knew that even the Word of God in the wrong mouth can be twisted into a sinful and false purpose, as we know that it so often is. But Jesus knew its true purpose: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Our Lord Jesus could not be bought. He could not be tricked. He could not be compromised. He knew that he was the Son of the Father. And for the love of the Father, and for the love of all mankind, he had become incarnate, and he would give his life to redeem every person in the world as its Savior. No fear could push him off that path; no temptation could pull him from it; and no deception would ever make him think that he had found a shortcut, a better way than his Father’s plan. Because a life of perfect trust and obedience was the plan. It was his one perfect sacrifice, completed on the cross—which will be made present on this altar at this Mass. And he invites us to join him in that fight, to make our lives a sacrifice of praise to the Father, joined in union with his.

Many centuries ago, St. Augustine wrote [in a commentary on Psalm 60]:

Do you think only of Christ’s temptation and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

This season of Lent is a special time for us to learn from our Lord Jesus how to triumph over temptation. And how did he do it?

  • He had an unshakeable trust in the Father, and an unbreakable commitment to obey him.
  • He was ready to say no to his physical needs and desires, and to suffer, if needed, rather than go against the Father’s will.
  • He was filled with the Holy Spirit and regularly spent time in prayer.
  • And he knew the Scriptures very well and put them to use.

Trust and obedience; mortification; prayer; and Scripture. And there is one more great weapon that is fundamental in triumphing over temptation: and that is sacramental confession. If we have serious sins in our past that we have not brought to confession, it is like going into battle with poisoned arrows or pieces of shrapnel still embedded in our soul. We are then in no shape to face temptation, until we have allowed our Lord to remove these sins, and to forgive us and heal us, in confession.

For the next five Wednesday evenings, our parish and indeed every parish in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington—the whole metro area, both sides of the river—will be offering a special opportunity for confession. Every parish will offer confessions and Eucharistic adoration from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on the Wednesdays of this Lent. Please spread the word, to anyone you know, so that everyone can learn of this special opportunity, at every single parish, where they can receive Christ’s forgiveness and healing; and then to get back in the battle, and to conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us: our Lord Jesus Christ, the triumphant second Adam. “The Light is ON for You.”

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Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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