Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In today's Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11), Satan tries to tempt Jesus by challenging Him over three important topics: the work of God, man's relationship with God, and the identity of God. For the next three weeks, I would like to use my bulletin letter to review these three significant temptations and how they connect to our lives.
The first temptation deals with the issue of the true nature of the work of God, and is presented in the suggestion that Jesus should turn stones into bread. Jesus has been wandering around in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and hasn't eaten a thing. We can imagine that Jesus was very hungry. Satan tries to convince Jesus that if He is the Son of God, then he should satisfy His hunger by transforming the stones around Him into food for Him to eat. This seems like a very logical thing to do. After all, isn't the quickest way to a man's heart through his stomach? Yet, Jesus doesn't fall into Satan's trap. Jesus recognizes that His real "hunger" is not for food, but for souls. What Jesus longs for most is not the satisfaction of worldly desires, but the restoration of man's relationship with God. Jesus knows that He did not come into the world merely to bring about worldly satisfaction. In other words, the true nature of the mission and work of God is not merely to feed the hungry stomach, but the hungry soul. This is why Jesus responds to Satan with the words, "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
We fall prey to Satan's trap when we reduce the faith to mere charitable works. We fall into this specific temptation when we think that if we do some charitable work like feeding the homeless, that we have satisfied the Gospel demand and that God will now turn his eyes away from our own sinfulness. The Lord, first and foremost, desires the sinner to repent of his own sinfulness. This is why the words spoken to us as we received our ashes on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) was, "Repent and believe in the Gospel!" Once we have experienced the mercy and forgiveness of Christ, then the repentant sinner is called to do charitable works in His glorious name. The social teachings of the Church and the Gospel demand to live them out find their origin and strength in an encounter with the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. We must never forget that the work of God is primarily (not secondarily) the forgiveness of sins. If we do one thing this Lent and nothing else, we should make sure to go to confession. It is the most important thing that we can do.
Please understand, I am not saying that charitable works are unimportant or unnecessary. They are very important and necessary for every disciple of Jesus Christ. Christ calls all of us to care for the physical needs of the poor and the vulnerable. Yet, the call to do so flows from an encounter of the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. We receive the mission to care for such people in and through an encounter with Christ.
Next week we will look at the second way in which Satan tries to tempt our Lord, and how we can stand strong in Christ. In the mean time, may we all ask the Lord in prayer to see how we can better repent and believe in the Gospel.
Peace in Christ,