Sunday Reflection – Jesus was led by the Spirit

Jesus was led by the Spirit

On the First Sunday of Lent each year, the Gospel is about the temptations of Jesus before he commences his public ministry.  “Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4: 1).  We will reflect initially on the nature of temptation, then on the experience of Jesus and finally on the role of the Spirit.

The nature of temptation

Today’s First Reading (Gen 2:7-9. 3:1-7) offers an explanation of how sin came into the world. The story of the forbidden fruit is the prototype of all temptation.  As we learn from the Gospel of John, the devil is anti-truth and anti-life, being the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.  The most successful deception is the half-truth, which is like the tasty bait used to lure the fish while concealing the sharp hook.  The tempter begins by planting a doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve.

“Did God really say you were not to eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden?”  Then he turns their attention to the one forbidden tree, the tree of life, which was so enticing to look at and bearing fruit good to eat.  Their senses are attracted to the bait.  Then comes the deception.  “Isn’t God the cute one!  No, you will not die. This is the tree which will give you the knowledge of good and evil.  Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods with the knowledge of good and evil.”  The temptation is to take God’s place, having moral autonomy.  You can make your own rules.  Their eyes were indeed opened, not only to what is good, but now also to what is evil.

Temptations of Jesus

Jesus was about to commence his public mission to reclaim people to the kingdom of God.  He needed time to prepare.  In Scripture, forty, be it of days or years, is the number associated with preparation.  He needed to clarify what he would do and what temptations he might face.

Because he was fasting, the first temptation was to change stones into bread.  “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into bread”.  But Jesus would not be misled.  “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Providing bread for people is a noble task but there were many good bakers who could do that.  It would be his role to recall people to the word of God with bread for the mind.

Then the master of the half-truth tried a second ploy.  Attract people to be your followers by a sensational stunt.  Go up to the roof of the temple, throw yourself down in the sure and certain belief that the angels will support you.  But Jesus will not court popularity with tricks.  This testing has clarified his intention to be on the side of those who are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful and willing to survive persecution for their ideals.  All will be revealed later in the Beatitudes.

The third temptation is based on a huge lie.  “Dia-bolos” means one who divides and leads astray, so it’s no bother to the devil to claim ownership of all the kingdoms of the world.  If Jesus would but fall at the feet of Satan and worship him, he would receive mastery of these kingdoms.  But Jesus would have nothing to do with power associated with violence, greed, hatred, war, inequality and other forms of evil.  “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.”   The followers of Jesus would be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Forty days of Lent

On Ash Wednesday we commenced our forty days of preparation before Holy Week.  The ashes remind us of our immortality and the need to repent and believe in the Gospel.  Lent brings a challenge to take an honest look at our life, where are we heading, where we can improve, what should we give up?  Where do we compromise on our ideals?  Are we half-hearted Christians who settle for the minimum?  If you are addicted to any of the i-gadgets … the iPhone, iPod, iPad … why not set aside one day each week as a Digital Detox Day.  It might become an i-opener in your life!  Take on more time for prayer or good reading.  Do something to raise funds for some charitable organizations.  

Be part of the Synod

Pope Francis has asked us to go beyond ourselves so as to recognise that we are part of the body of the Church.  Anybody can see that the Church is seriously wounded and in need of reform.  We are invited to take part in a Synod, literally meaning to walk together.  To walk with whom?  With one another, prepared to meet, listen and discern.  To discern what?  Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, coming to know that the stranger on their journey was the Risen Lord.  Returning to the opening line of today’s Gospel: “Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness.”   The Synod is not about gathering opinions, counting votes, majority rule or making new rules, much less new doctrines.  This walking together is ultimately about discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church.

I feel guilty that I am not involved in any group meetings.  But I am consoled by remembering that the Legion of Mary has active members and auxiliary members whose task is to pray.  My prayer is inspired by the prophet Ezechiel (Chapter 37).  He consoled the exiled Israelites who said, “Our bones are dry, our hope is gone; we are done for.”  Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?  Perhaps our greatest temptation today is to lose hope.   Ezechiel encouraged his people with a vision he had.  He saw a valley strewn with dry bones.  The breath (or spirit) of God entered them and they came back to life.  “You will know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, and put my spirit in you, and you revive.”  Jesus was led by the Spirit.  So are we, but we must walk with the Lord to discern the presence of the Spirit.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Come, O Holy Spirit, breath of life.  Come to us in our valley of dry bones.  Come and renew the heart of the Church and the face of the earth.  Enkindle within us the fire of your love.

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