The account of Jesus’ temptation appears with slight variations in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. These accounts expand upon Mk 1:12-13, which mentions briefly that Jesus “remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Mark gives no further details, but Matthew and Luke both knew the tradition in this Sunday’s Gospel, in which the devil tempts Jesus three times and then withdraws to seek another opportunity.
‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’ (Lk 4:8)
What gifts has God given you?
Do you use them for yourself or for the needs of others?
How can Lent become a time to imitate Jesus’
The language of this threefold temptation bears some resemblance to a vision found in the prophecy of Daniel. In Dn 7:14, God gives three gifts to a heaven-sent savior called the “one like a son of man.” These gifts of authority, glory and kingship perhaps lie behind the temptations with which the devil entices Jesus. The first temptation was not only for Jesus to make bread from stone, but also to use his divine authority over creation to sate his hunger. The second temptation was not just the enticement of royal power, but rather a temptation to accede to the world’s fantasies of kingship (which the devil had corrupted) rather than to proclaim the true kingdom that God had established. The third temptation was not just a testing of trust in divine grace, but rather an abuse of God’s favor for Jesus’ own glorification. Jesus bore divine gifts, but they were for mission. As he repelled each temptation, Jesus resisted using these gifts to satisfy his own needs.
The account in this Sunday’s Gospel reading has some details specific to Luke, who presents the three tests in a different order than Matthew does. Both Evangelists agree that in the first temptation Jesus resisted using his divine authority to feed himself, but Luke places the kingship temptation second and the Jerusalem temptation last. Doing so highlights the role of Jerusalem as the place of Jesus’ glorification. The devil suggests that since Jesus has God’s attention at all times, he ought to use that divine grace to reveal his status. Jesus instead waits for the moment the Father has chosen to reveal the Son, which is the resurrection. Luke’s narrative here foreshadows the moment when the Father lifts Jesus up not for spectacle but for salvation.
As Jesus was tempted, so are his disciples. The Father who endowed the Son with every gift has also given the Son’s disciples everything they have, and they face temptations similar to those Jesus overcame. God’s presence and action always accompany a call to serve. Although some might find in their God-given talents a career that provides security or purpose, Jesus revealed that such gifts are tools to repair creation and undo the damage of sin. Similarly, following a spiritual path may lead to positions of authority over others. Social status easily leads to pride, but Jesus’ example leads instead to humble service. Finally, God’s love may provide identity and self-esteem, but ultimately divine love calls Christians, as it did Jesus, to a complete self-offering. As Jesus overcame temptations to use divine grace for himself, so Christians must continue to seek God’s purpose in every gift they receive. Only then will they fulfill God’s saving mission.