Wednesday, March 27, 2019

1st Sunday of Lent C: Christ's Battle

March 10, 2019

Jesus, I trust in you!

Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we beg the Father: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Today, we hear the exact opposite in our Gospel reading. After his baptism at the River Jordan, the Lord Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert “to be tempted by the devil.” The Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus away from temptation but led him into it. It was as if the Holy Spirit fortified Jesus for a battle – a battle that the Lord decided to engage in because the Lord “heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” brought about by his enemy, the devil. As the Egyptians maltreated the Israelites, so did the devil maltreat and oppressed by imposing the hard labor of suffering, illness, and death upon us.  The Lord knew that we were powerless against this oppression that is why he himself came down to this earthly desert of our exile in order to engage the devil in a fight so that he can bring us out of our Egypt “with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders.” In leading us out of this enslaving world, he intends to bring us to heaven, the land overflowing with milk and honey.

The weapon the devil used against Jesus was the same weapon he used against Adam and Eve: temptation. He used temptation to seduce our first parents away from the path of holiness which the Lord intended for them. The devil has his way of doing it. In a temptation, the devil could make something so horrible look attractive. The devil made the forbidden fruit look delicious to eat. Adam and Eve were so enticed by the assurance that eating the forbidden fruit would not kill them. Rather, it would make them like God. Our first parents fell into this trap. They ate the forbidden fruit. They disobeyed the Lord and so sin entered the world and together with sin came suffering, illness, and death.

The devil tried using the same temptation on Jesus. Capitalizing on our Lord’s hunger from fasting, the devil attempted to make the stones look like bread: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”  It is as if the devil was saying: “You are the Son of God. You do not even have to go hungry because you have the power to do the impossible. Change stone to bread and help yourself. Use your power to indulge yourself.”

The devil seduced Adam and Eve with an empty promise: they will become gods if they disobeyed the Lord. He now seduced Jesus with the promise of earthly power and glory in exchange for a renunciation of his Divinity. He must have thought the Jesus was no different from Esau who sold away his birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup to satisfy his hunger. It was as if the devil told Jesus: “You do not have to suffer and die in order to receive power and glory. Simply relinquish your Divinity and worship me and then, power and glory will be yours with the least effort.”

The devil tried to instill in Christ doubt in the Father’s love for him: “Go and jump from the parapet of the temple and test the Father’s love for you. If he loves you, he will send his angels to catch you and keep you from harming yourself.” After 3 years, the devil will reiterate this temptation on Calvary. The devil would speak to Jesus as he hanged on the Cross: “Where is your Father now? Where are your angels now? Did they not defend you from this cruelty? Why are you all alone now?” The devil would speak through the jeering crowd: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross and we will believe in you.”

But Jesus would not jump. He will not test the Father. He will not come down from the Cross. He will stay on the side of his Father. He will be obedient until death. He will stay on the Cross because the Cross will be his weapon against the devil. The outstretched arm he will use to lead us out of the slavery of sin will be that arm which he will stretch out upon the wood of the Cross. The terrifying power of Christ will be that of his unconditional obedience to the Father. His signs and wonders will be his Cross and his Resurrection. Indeed, the Lord will win this battle by his fasting, by his suffering, by his unwavering obedience, by his Cross, and by his Resurrection.

And he empowers us with the same weapons in our spiritual battle against the devil. This Lenten season, he invites us to join him in his fast. Strengthen your soul by the weakness of your body. Fast and pray. Arm yourself with the Word of God. Obey his word. Restrain yourself. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. Let us arm ourselves with the weapon of self-restraint as we take up battle against spiritual evils (Collect of Ash Wednesday). Do not be afraid. Christ has gone before us in this battle. He has engaged the enemy in a battle. He fought and he won. He has conquered the world.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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