Sunday, March 1, 2020


Jesus is the blessed face of God’s mercy.[1] And in who he is, in all that he does, he reveals the tender compassion of the Father for us, and so he shows us what it would be like if God were always in charge.[2] This is what the kingdom of God means. And so my brothers and sisters, we can be certain of this - if Jesus wants the kingdom, desires to establish God’s reign of mercy with every fiber of his being, Satan always, always will want the opposite. It’s that simple. So it is that this morning in the desert, the battle lines are set. And we see Satan desperately trying to beguile Jesus the warrior. Though he is vulnerable and weakened after a prolonged fast, Jesus holds his ground. Fresh from the waters of his baptism, he has heard the Father’s voice, “You are my Beloved One.” He knows who he is, to whom he belongs, what he is about.

And so he rebuffs Satan’s attacks decisively. Jesus won’t be fooled. He is the new Adam who will remain faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. And he will perfectly fulfill Israel's destiny; for in contrast to those who provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the Father. Jesus will be Satan’s conqueror; he will "bind the strong man."[3] And even though he tempts Our Lord this morning, Satan knows he doesn’t have a chance in hell; he knows it and he’s furious. And he’s not backing down.

And so as Satan taunts Jesus this morning, “If you are the Son of God;” we hear an echo of the ridicule that will be barked at him on Calvary. “If you are the Son of God, come down from there.” Jesus’ victory over Satan this morning in the desert anticipates his victory on the cross. For it is there on the cross that Jesus will express perfectly his love for the Father and each of us. This will be his supreme act of filial obedience.[4] There in his agony Jesus will dupe Satan once and for all, trampling down death by death.  

But here in the desert this morning, Satan’s still on the attack. Jesus is ready for him. Make bread out of a rock? No, I don’t think so; for his food is to do the will of his Father. Have secular rule over all the kingdoms of the earth? Why bother. It’s not going to happen, for Jesus is with us to inaugurate the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and compassion and mercy where it is the poor and lowly will be lifted up and set on thrones. As for leaping off the top of the temple, the only plunge Jesus is going to take in Jerusalem will be into the depths of death.[5] There on the cross he will sink into sorrow and untold pain, all to reverse their power over us. Then taken down from his cross of agony, he will fall into the arms of most sorrowful mother.

It strikes me that the scene that precedes his temptation is fundamental to our understanding. For there at his Baptism Jesus descended into the murky water that is our humanity - soggy, sin-prone and unpredictable, ever vulnerable to temptation. Jesus has immersed himself in all of it. Perhaps for too long we have thought that God was after us, trying to catch us, watching from far off to see if we would mess up and give in to temptation. Maybe we got it wrong. God in Christ is never that far away, he’s with us; he has come to share unreservedly in all that we go through. He is always able to empathize with us in our weaknesses; he has been tempted in every way that as we are - yet without sinning. He has taken upon himself all that we are. He’s not far away spying on us; he’s down here with us in the mess, accompanying us, even in the confusion of our temptations. 

I want to say, “Jesus, what are you doing down here? What can it mean that you were tempted, you who said, 'My will is to do the will of him who sent me?'" Yet we see that he was tempted to do otherwise and has to stand his ground. Like us in all things but sin; he knows the reality of what it means to be pulled in the wrong direction. So much does Jesus love us, that our temptation to sin has become his temptation. And by identifying with us down there, Jesus has paved the way for us to share the righteousness that characterizes God himself, “so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” That is our destiny.

Some years ago in the flush of new fervor for my faith, and a love for Christ I had never before experienced, I think I felt a bit rarefied and somewhat above the common fray. And I remember one afternoon a temptation sneaking in, softly, suddenly, insistently. I was embarrassed, lost my balance. Imagine feeling such things again; I was supposed to be way beyond that now. Ha! And as I tried to pray through it, I sensed Jesus somehow saying to me, very quietly but definitely, “Would you be less than I am?” “Would you be less than I am?” which is to say, “I went through all of these things, I was tempted in every way as you are. I am, I will be with you, in you, through all of it. Trust me, rely on me alone. Don’t you want to be like me?”

Our weakness and temptations can be places of encounter with Christ. Down there with him we have the blessed opportunity to depend on him alone, to cry out in our helplessness and flee to him for refuge. Then he can save us, for his power is always completed in our weakness. Jesus is with us, and he shows us this morning how to stand firm, grounded in our identity as beloved of God, so that we can make the loving choice when faced with the possibility of doing otherwise. And most breathtaking of all, if we do give in to temptation, if foolishly, weakly, deliberately we do sin, we are able to beg for his mercy and forgiveness. He has promised always, always to bend down, pick us up, wash our wounds with the blood and water flowing from his own wounded side and carry us home to the Father. What could be better than that?

Baptized into Christ Jesus, we are beloved in him. Death and evil, Satan and all his wiles, even when we feel like we’re up to our neck in temptation and sin. None of it ultimately has any power at all over us; we belong to Christ Jesus. He has won the victory for us. 

[1] See Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus

[2] See N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[5] See Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: Luke.

Reflection by one of the monks.