First Sunday of Lent
With the Determination of the Warrior who Cuts Off his Arm,
Destroy the Crafty Plans of the Devil
First Reading (Deut 26: 4-10): The Chosen People proclaimed their faith
Second Reading (Rom 10: 8-13): Those with faith who verbally acknowledge God will be saved
Gospel (Lk 4: 1-13): Jesus fasted, then three times overcame the devil's temptations
-“Riches cannot corrupt me; poverty cannot move me; force cannot make me bend.”(1)
-“Being rich, behave with dignity; being poor, behave with dignity.” (2)
-“Sufficiently fed and clothed, one becomes conscious of honor and shame”. (3)
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil... Jesus answered him “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ...It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.’ ...It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Lk 4: 1-13, summarized)
In Matthew's version of this passage, Jesus added a word of exorcism at the end. In a loud voice as clear as a bell, he called out, “Away with you Satan!” (Mt 4: 10). Or we could translate it, “Go away! Be gone!”
“Go away! Be gone!” When we read this verse in the Gospel, it is as if we can see Jesus himself and hear his voice. We seem to see a giant standing firmly on his own ground, coldly scolding the devil so that the devil could only run away like a mouse! In the face of such 'a man of God', how could the devil harm at will?
“Go away.” This is a definitive rebuke, an uncompromising rejection.
“Go away.” Jesus' voice had the power of thunder, showing a strength which came from the majestic God. It showed clearly the cold rage and wrath the Lord of heaven and earth felt towards the devil' wiles.
If we look at this from the viewpoint of Jesus' human nature only, we can see a perfect model of what ancient Chinese people dreamt about. A person actually can reach such a stage: “Riches cannot corrupt me; poverty cannot move me; force cannot make me bend.” (1) Such a person cannot be tempted or corrupted by riches and honors. That person's high standard of moral principles cannot be shaken by poverty or humble conditions. Nor can power or force make the person bow or bend. Mencius described such a person as a 'great man.'
We humans really do have the ability to reach the stage of “being rich, and behaving with dignity; being poor and behaving with dignity.”(2) That is, people can live and act appropriately no matter what their environment, whether there is wealth or poverty, good or bad fortune. Whatever the circumstances, the person remains a righteous, dignified human being.
Jesus was a full human person, externally no different from other people. Otherwise, his neighbors would not have rejected and looked down on him, even to the point where “they got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. (Lk 4: 29). In the eyes of many people, Jesus was just “Joseph's son.”(Lk 4:22)
This fully human person, similar to us in every aspect, was now in the wilderness, having fasted and prayed for forty days and nights. His face would have been pale, he would have been hungry and weak, probably even shaky when he stood up. Satan saw a person somewhat familiar but whose background he did not know. How could the devil not grasp the opportunity to draw this person into his own circle, even to use him for his own purposes?
When Guan Zi said, “Sufficiently fed and clothed, then one becomes conscious of honor and shame”(3) he meant that only after a person had enough to eat and wear could he talk about ideals, benevolence, justice, or moral standards and religious issues. This is an obvious and simple truth to many people. That is why when a person is starving and is near death, the devil's first temptation, of course, is food.
Although people who are over-fed and dressed too ornately do not necessarily have covetous thoughts, still, when they need not worry about basic needs they are more inclined to pursue power and glory. It is so much better if such people were under God's special protection so as to avoid too much risk! So Satan's temptations to Jesus were to attract him to power and honor, using trust in God as the excuse. Therefore he tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to be acclaimed by all the people.
This temptation of Jesus actually has some strong religious reasons, quite reasonable to some who hear it. At least at the very start, Satan does not show his cunning face or use unreasonable or ridiculous reasons. The clever devil knows how to mask his evil ways!
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be turn into bread! What virtue is there in being hungry? Human life relies not only on God's Word but also on bread! Isn’t material abundance a sign of God's blessing? When the Israelites were hungry in the wilderness, did not God send down manna from heaven to save their lives?
“Do not be afraid to jump down, God will send angels to protect you. Jump! Do you not belong to God? Are you not a 'man of God'? Would God let your foot slip on a rock? Look at the magnificent world with such myriad colors, all of it will belong to you because I can give it all to you! As a warrior deserves a precious sword and a hero unmatched beauty, you surely are worthy of such glory and honor! Come, worship me!”
Today some people say that 'moral degeneration in the world is becoming worse day by day' or 'the world is in the grip of the devil.' Perhaps such words sound too frightening, but it is also unwise to look too lightly on the presence of evil and the wiles of the devil.
When we are facing the possibility of evil's power, and the circumstances that can so often lead us into temptation, we need to learn from Jesus. We must have a fearless spirit, and with the courage of 'cutting off one's arm', say a definite 'No' to Satan. There is no need to discuss or look for reasons, we must overcome the temptation and thrust it far from us.
With complete righteousness let us follow Jesus closely and become for all time a person full of integrity.