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March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent, Year A

The first Sunday of Lent takes us into the desert, where Jesus is driven by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil (Mt 4:1-11).

All the synoptics agree to place the episode of the temptations immediately after the Baptism: there Jesus chose a style, a precise expression, that of a humble obedient servant, which is the Will of the Father, the way for his life. And the Father was pleased with this choice, and consecrated Jesus filling Him with the Holy Spirit.

From here Jesus does not set out at once on his mission of salvation, of announcing the Kingdom, but docilely abandons himself to go to a place of solitude and silence: the mission of Jesus begins in the desert.

Why?

Perhaps because in the Baptism Jesus encountered the Father, heard His voice, and had the assurance of His love.

In the desert Jesus encounters man, the man that He himself is, with his weakness, his frailties, and his illusions. Therefore, going into the desert is not a fortuitous circumstance; it is rather a grace. And it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit who leads Him there (Mt 4:1).

Jesus, in the desert, goes through and experiences the most desolate and darkest regions of the human soul, farthest from God, ours: if He wants to save us, He must necessarily start there.

Sometimes we spend all of life avoiding this experience of encounter with ourselves, escaping the desert, dodging that place that would allow us to unmask the falseness that inhabits us, to recognize our illusions, our evasions, our false image of God.

Jesus begins there, because there is no mission except by starting with an humble self-knowledge and our need for salvation. Only in this way do we learn trustful reliance on the Father.

In the desert, then, Jesus is put to the test.

But what is the temptation?

To understand a little better, we have to take a step back, and return to the first temptation of which the Bible speaks, what happened in the garden, which has Adam and Eve as the protagonists (Gen 3).

In the garden, people have everything, except what brings them death.

But the tempter suggests to them the idea that this limitation is a deficiency, that in reality God is jealous of His things, and that they cannot expect from Him the fullness of life: they just have to take it by themselves.

This is what happens to Jesus in the desert.

The devil suggests to Him to have everything, wealth, power, success.

In reality, this would not even be a bad thing.

The problem is that for the devil this is only possible taking it by oneself, without allowing the Father to give it.

Having it all, but without asking for it, without waiting for it, without receiving it.

We find a re-reading of this temptation in the parable of the murderous vine-growers (Mt 21:33ff), who think they can get the inheritance only at the cost of eliminating the one who is the heir. And the deception lies in not understanding that the heir came just to share his inheritance with us, to give us everything.

Then it becomes clear that every temptation concerns God, our image of Him, our relationship with Him. The temptation reaches us where we are called to trust and to entrust ourselves, without falling into the deception of the preoccupation that we talked about last Sunday (Mt 6:24-34), without isolating ourselves in autonomous independence, which makes us think that we can save life by ourselves.

Jesus does not fall into this trap: the devil suggests some things, Jesus chooses filial relationship and obedience.

And in this relationship, He finds everything, He receives all: “All things have been given to Me by My Father,” He will say later (Mt 11:27).

All what, according to the tempter, Jesus should take by Himself, Jesus chooses to receive it from the Father, and so will have it in fullness: will have life, will have glory, will have dominion over all things; the Father will give Life to the Son, but will give it to Him precisely because Jesus will receive it as gift, remaining in a relationship of absolute obedience and trust. Certain that the Father will give much more than one can hope for and desire.

We conclude with two annotations.

The first is that the devil tempts Jesus by citing the Word of God.

This temptation shows us that there is also the possibility of using, of listening to the Word of God, but without God, against God. Of using the Word without listening to the voice, without obeying. The temptation is exactly this, to disengage totally from God, just in the things that come from Him: His Word, just as our life.

The second is to ask oneself: but why does the devil do this?

Perhaps because if Jesus had followed his directions, he certainly would have been more successful, but He would not have saved anyone. He would have found the path of a triumphal Messianism, which would have solved many problems, but he would have avoided the single great problem of man, which is that of learning to believe and to trust again in God, unconditionally, forever.

Jesus, in the desert, shows us the way to go.

+ Pierbattista

Original version in italian

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