Matthew and Temptation (Mt 4:1-11)

This passage is mysterious, and yet somehow familiar to each of us on a personal level. Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil?  We know the devil is always hovering around any major event, but Matthew makes this sound like a set-up of the newly baptized Jesus. It was obviously a time of preparation for the story of his ministry – he was fasting for forty days and forty nights – no fortifying meals in the evening or on weekends, not even small meals, nothing that could be called sustenance. Watching until he was very hungry, the devil made a proposal: “Turn rocks to bread. You can easily do this if you are Son of God.” So is the divine strategy? Give Jesus an opportunity to have a debate, if you will, with Satan. Which party has the better argument? Jesus won round one by declaring that we don’t live only on material bread, but on God’s word.

The devil then jumped from a natural rock to a hewn rock placed in the Temple façade. “Throw yourself from this exalted place! Angels will surely bear you up to keep even your feet from injury on this earthly stone!” To this Jesus quotes Scripture which is greater than the Temple to say: “You are not to put God to the test.” Still confident, the devil takes Jesus to the grandest of rocks, a mountaintop from which could be seen kingdoms of the world. With a sweeping gesture the devil announced: “I will give all of this to you if you will just do me homage.” Here Jesus pronounces the tempter’s name – Satan, the condemned one, the only homage due the devil. In fact, Jesus invokes the devil’s due homage when he says: “Away with you!” This was the devil’s reward for his original rebellion when St. Michael drove him from heaven: “Away with you!” And Jesus reminds him again of what he was told in the beginning when he sought his own greatness: “You shall do homage only to God. Him alone shall you adore!”

This is the rule book for temptation: rely only on Scripture for the sustaining food; look to nothing above God whose will is never found in the showy or the self-fulfilling; never give the devil the time of day (or night). Tell him in no polite phrases where to go. The adoration of time, attention, and consideration belong to God alone. And when we feel too weak to face the challenge of temptation, there is always the mantle of Mary.