HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A.
THEME: TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS
BY: Fr. Jude Nnadi.
Readings: Genesis 2, 7-9; 3,1-7; Romans 5,12-19; Matthew 4,1-11
“The tempter approached and said to him: If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. He said in reply: It is written: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes fort from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city and said to him: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down… Jesus answered him: Again, it is written: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence and said to him: All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me. At this, Jesus said to him: Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve!” (Mt 4).
The story of the temptations of Jesus is built by Matthew on scores of movements followed by Jesus’ triple quotation from the Bible. Two biblical backgrounds are very essential in this story. The first in the background is the desert which evokes the crisis of faith of the pilgrim Israel in the Sinai steppes. The second is that of the Palestinian horizon, the promised land with its “pinnacle” (which is the highest edge of the Temple walls), the “highest mountain” popular tradition identified with the “Mountain of Temptation”, a symbol of light and prosperity. With these “background” a theme very dear to Matthew appears: around Jesus is gathered the true faithful Israel that do not give in to diabolical plans for power and triumph.
The tempter flashes before Christ and his disciple three forms of messianism, or if you like, of religiosity. The first temptation, that of turning stones into loaves, is linked to giving in to a craving, unquenchable desire for pleasure and satisfaction. Christ before the multiplication of loaves, was moved by the crowd of hungry people of that time and of all times (Mk 6:34). But, after having fed them, as soon as he realizes they mistake him for an ideal head of state, “knowing that they wanted to make him king, immediately retreats to the mountain, all alone” (Jn 6:15).
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The second form of messianism symbolized by the tempter, which is jumping down from parapet of the Temple is thaumaturgical. Here religion is understood in the form of magic or sacred show. This can destroy or put at risk the true faith of the people. Jesus and Paul spoke in disregard of this form of religiosity: “This adulterous and perverse generation is looking for a sign, but no sign will be given it”, we read in Mt 16: 4, while in the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “The Jews seek miracles, the Greeks seek wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified” (1: 22-23).
The third is the strongest temptation, that of political messianism. It is the religion of power and well-being, an implacable idolatry which demands from its faithful an absolute totality of dedication, like that which binds the authentic faithful to the living and true God: “You cannot serve God and mammon. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be fond of one and despise the other” (Lk 16:13). Jesus does not compromise himself with political power, his is not a project of domination and possession but of love and donation.
The “temptation of the loaves” is resolved, in adherence to God’s plan which is greater than the economic-social systems. The “temptation of the Temple” is resolved in the rejection of the pseudo-religion which, instead of serving God, claims to serve God. The “temptation of the mountain” is resolved in the rejection of oppressive and selfish power and in adhering to the only Lordship of God. Jesus responds to these challenges of Satan with a single weapon, that of the Word of God, the Sacred Scripture. Therefore, we Christians who walks in the thorny forest of life, surrounded by those who in their greed, quests for well-being, success, and power, must have the Word of God as a guide, which (Jer 23:29) says is “like a burning fire, and like a hammer can break the rock” of evil.
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