The First Temptation
When scripture is quoted and the text is not provided, please look to the bottom of the reflection for the text of the scripture.
Let us once again look at the text from the Gospel according to Matthew.Mat 4:1-11
(1) The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him. (2) After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry. (3) Then the devil came to him and said, "If you are God's Son, tell these stones to turn into bread.” (4) Jesus answered, "The Scriptures say: 'No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.' " (5) Next, the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple. (6) The devil said, "If you are God's Son, jump off. The Scriptures say: 'God will give his angels orders about you. They will catch you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones.' " (7) Jesus answered, "The Scriptures also say, 'Don't try to test the Lord your God!' " (8) Finally, the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power. (9) The devil said to him, "I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.” (10) Jesus answered, "Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.' " (11) Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.In the first temptation Satan waits for Christ to be at a very weak point before confronting him with a temptation. After some time without eating, Lucifer’s proposition is to give Jesus some comfort by way of food. We see how cunning the Devil is, he doesn’t appear to be doing any harm, just giving a suggestion which would bring comfort. Doesn’t this seem familiar? A temptation presented as an opportunity to help, to comfort?
But Jesus responds, sensing the evil intentions of the Evil One. Jesus knows that the soul is much more important than bodily health. This gives us the real meaning of “Fear of the Lord”: it is being more afraid of damaging your soul than of losing some physical ability, or foregoing some pleasure. Jesus is being asked here to choose his bodily existence over his eternal one. He is actually being asked to prove that he is the Son of God. We that Jesus understood the undertones of the temptation by his response: “No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.” This is a quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3: “so he made you go hungry. Then he gave you manna, a kind of food that you and your ancestors had never even heard about. The LORD was teaching you that people need more than food to live--they need every word that the LORD has spoken.” We can further assert that, as we hear in St John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Word and that it is Jesus we need to survive into eternity. We have Jesus when we live by his example, by obeying his teaching, by living lives full of Love.
In this short Gospel passage we see Christ giving us the right order of being. First comes God (who is Love (1 John 4:8)), then everything else to follow. So often in our lives we are tempted to first try provide for a comfortable life and then we think we can see to our souls when we are comfortable. Jesus teaches us here that we will never really be comfortable until we put Love first, the ultimate Love, the Love revealed by Christ, who is God who is Love.
The temptation is often also to try and provide “bread” to others. Isn’t world hunger the saddest thing, which proves that a loving God does not exist? Shouldn’t the Messiah be able to provide bread? No doubt, there are so many people in need. But when we don’t respect the right ordering, and put bread above Love, then we will fail those we are trying to help. We will end up giving stones and not bread. Below we see that Jesus does give bread to the people in a different setting. One that occurs in the correct context: where the giving of bread is in the correct context, not to prove his power only.
We are continually asked to remember this right ordering of things, so that we may always be able to provide real bread. Now, you may ask, where have we seen that bread is provided; all we’ve seen here is hunger. Let us go further on in the Gospel, to an event where Jesus does provide bread. I would like to quote directly our dear Pope B16 who talks of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves to feed the thousands (see: Mt 15:34 – 38):
“Why does Christ now do the very thing he had rejected as a temptation before? The crowds had left everything in order to come and hear God’s word. They are people who have opened their heart to God and to one another; they are therefore ready to receive the bread with the proper disposition. The miracle of the loaves has three aspects, then. It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path. Furthermore, God is asked to supply the bread. Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle. Listening to God becomes living with God, and leads from faith to love, to the discovery of the other. Jesus is not indifferent toward men’s hunger, their bodily needs, but he places these things in the proper context and the proper order.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2007, p32)
Bible verses mentioned above, not quoted:
Jesus asked them how much food they had. They replied, "Seven small loaves of bread and a few little fish." After Jesus had told the people to sit down, he took the seven loaves of bread and the fish and gave thanks. He then broke them and handed them to his disciples, who passed them around to the crowds. Everyone ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets. There were four thousand men who ate, not counting the women and children.