First Sunday of Lent - Fr. Pete Iorio
March 6, 2022 - 11:00 AM
February 27, 2022 - 8:30 AM
My mom was a very wise woman. There are many things she said that I still remember as pearls of wisdom. I’m reminded of one of them today. “It is difficult to choose between the good and the good.” One small example might bethat I want to go to a lecture to learn more about a topic that I really enjoy and the rest of the family is planning an outing to enjoy each other and the beautiful day at the same time.
The three temptations of Jesus are the primal and universal temptations that all humans must face before they dare take on any kind of power—as Jesus is about to do. They are all temptations to the misuse of power for purposes less than God’s purpose. They are the misuse of practical everyday power, the misuse of political power, and the misuse of religious power. These are the constant tragedies that keep defeating humanity. If you face such demons in yourself, God can and will use you mightily. Otherwise, you will, for sure, be used!
The devil presents Jesus with various strategies to fulfill his mission. These are the strategies used by the powerful, strategies that seem necessary for those who seek power. The devil tries to convince Jesus that, if he is truly the Messiah, he must use the strategies that can guarantee him success. Jesus' struggle is to recognize that the way he has to work is different from what is seen in the world. Faithfulness to his Father requires Jesus to reject the trappings of the world and be faithful to the vision of God as good, kind, generous, peaceful, loving and just.
The first temptation is about turning stones into bread. There is something good in the idea. God had provided food for the Israelites in the wilderness. In the evening God sent quail and manna in the morning. He had also given them water when they were thirsty. So, the devil says that if he is the Son of God, Jesus must provide bread for the hungry. But Jesus knows that this miracle of God did not result in a conversion of heart. The Israelites kept asking for miracles and complaining about their deprivation. Jesus knew that the Kingdom required a personal relationship with God, with others, and with the land itself. So he rejected the idea of seeking followers by satisfying people's physical needs.
Then the devil takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the nations of the world. We can say that he presents him with the dynamics of power: how to gain power, how to control and manage others. It is the system that worked in Jesus' time and still works today. It is a system that works by accusation and division. One leader or nation accuses another of some crime or offense. Then, people divide according to their understanding of what exists. They divide out of hatred and envy. Jesus understands that this strategy does not serve to create the Kingdom of God. His Kingdom is built on the unity of the family of God and reconciliation. Last week, I visited the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency or TEMA in Nashville. The Director, who is Catholic, said something that impressed me. When a crisis occurs, they have to put together a plan using information from different areas of expertise. He said that they focus on building robust relationships among each other. He said that we know that every plan we write is flawed and wrong. They don’t go perfectly. We trust in the process of consensus and go forward. Looking at it from my biblical perspective, this is the process of building the kingdom of God on earth…relationships that are based on trust and working together.
In the third temptation, the devil uses the words of Scripture to convince Jesus that a demonstration of power would bring him every kind of follower. The temptation is to think that no one could deny that Jesus was the Son of God if angels would support him in a fall from the temple. But Jesus sees it as a manipulation of God and rejects this temptation as well. He understood that his work was not about tempting God, but about submitting to his Father's will. The great paradox that we will see at the end of the season of Lent on Good Friday is that Jesus was recognized as Son of God when he was seen hanging on the cross and not on the wings of angels.
Let me point out something we almost always fail to notice. We can only be tempted to something that is good on some level, partially good, or good for some, or just good for us and not for others. Temptations are always about “good” things, or we could not be tempted: in these cases “bread,” “kingdoms in their magnificence,” and “Scripture.” Most people’s daily ethical choices are not between total good and total evil, but between various shades of good, a partial good that is wrongly perceived as an absolute good (because the self is the central reference point), or even evil that disguises itself as good. These are what get us into trouble.