Sunday, March 5, 2017


If we look closely at the three temptations recounted by Matthew, we see that in all three the devil seized on the apparent discrepancy between what Jesus knew about himself (that he was the Son of God) and what he was immediately experiencing (the denial of all comfort, the refusal of food and drink, the solitude and abandonment of the desert). “If you are the Son of God,” the tempter says, “then you should not be hungry, you should not be unheeded, you should not be powerless.” At the end of his life, on the Cross, Jesus will again be mocked: “If you are the Son of God, come down and save yourself....”

The first thing we notice is that real weakness is essential to this story, to Jesus’ experience of temptation and to ours. He’s hungry, alone, suffering the human weakness we find in ourselves. He identified, moreover, with that most fundamental purpose we all share as human beings: to seek God, find God, and belong wholly to God. This is what is at stake—for him and for us, in any temptation. But it is hard.

We know personally that in times of temptation we experience our own weakness acutely; it can take us by surprise and thoroughly disconcert us. A good Lent will be full of temptations, and temptation brings us face to face with our weakness like nothing else. From this morning’s Gospel we can be sure that Jesus knows our weakness first hand, and takes his place by our side in every temptation. He is neither ashamed nor disdainful of our weakness. Saint Paul goes so far as to claim that he chose us on account of our weakness, for in our weakness his strength will manifest itself, his grace will bring about new life. It is not an exaggeration to say that our weakness is what God loves most about us. 

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled), 17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York. Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for the First Sunday of Lent.