Why Did Christ Allow Himself to be Tempted?
Yesterday's Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Mark, and it told (in part) of Jesus' temptation in the desert. The lines from Mark read: "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him."
This story of Jesus' temptation, like so many episodes in Jesus' life, can raise more questions than it answers. Why does the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness? Why does Jesus allow this? What does this mean for us in our life of faith? Of the thousands of pages that could be written in response, I've found Aquinas's commentary to be both accessible and illuminating. Here is part of his commentary in the Summa Theologica:
I answer that, Christ wished to be tempted; first that He might strengthen us against temptations. Hence Gregory says in a homily (xvi in Evang.): "It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted, who came also to be slain; in order that by His temptations He might conquer our temptations, just as by His death He overcame our death."
Secondly, that we might be warned, so that none, however holy, may think himself safe or free from temptation. Wherefore also He wished to be tempted after His baptism, because, as Hilary says (Super Matth., cap. iii.): "The temptations of the devil assail those principally who are sanctified, for he desires, above all, to overcome the holy. Hence also it is written (Sirach 2): Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation."
Thirdly, in order to give us an example: to teach us, to wit, how to overcome the temptations of the devil. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. iv) that Christ "allowed Himself to be tempted" by the devil, "that He might be our Mediator in overcoming temptations, not only by helping us, but also by giving us an example."
Fourthly, in order to fill us with confidence in His mercy. Hence it is written (Hebrews 4:15): "We have not a high-priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin."