First Sunday of Lent

Jesus did not give in to temptation
By Father Pete Iorio

Since the first Sunday of Lent always begins with the temptation of Jesus in the desert and we have heard it so many times, we may become complacent thinking that we have heard it all before. Just as we hear the temptations again and again, we need to ask this question again and again: Who are you?? This is a serious question. The answer determines everything else in life. My answer can be

I am … Peter, a man, a priest, a brother, an American …

I dare to say that the answer for each and every one of us to the question: Who are you? is “I am a beloved child of God.”   All of the rest is add on. At our core, at the soul level, we are the beloved of God.  When we forget our true identity, we get into trouble.

The beginning of the Gospel today has a key line that sets the temptations of Jesus into proper context: when he “returned from the Jordan.” The temptation of Jesus in the desert immediately follows His baptism in the Jordan River where His identity was revealed. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Once you know who you are, you can be tested. Before you know who you are, you just have options. From the River Jordan, the Spirit leads Him into the desert for 40 days. This Spirit never departed from Jesus. He spent a lot of time in prayer as was his habit to discern and obey the will of the Father and to prepare for whatever He had to do on his mission. A mission produces results.

Every tree is known by its fruits. An apple tree produces apples. An orange tree produces oranges. This is what is it does at its core. So what does a beloved son or daughter of God produce?  The answer is LOVE in all of its best qualities: patience, kindness; it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor or disrespect others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always forgives, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

Paul, who wrote that letter to the Corinthians, came to know his true self as a beloved child of God through his relationship with Christ.

What the devil tempts the Son of God to do and what the devil tempts us to do is to forget who we are or to deny who we are. We can look at Genesis, at Adam and Eve when they were tempted. It was the same thing. God had made them in his own image and likeness… in essence his beloved and placed them in the Garden of Eden. The tempter put into their minds to be something that they were not. The temptation is to be better than you are, to be tempted to have something that you do not have. A pattern that emerges from Genesis is the blame game: the woman made me do it.  Oh really. For how many of us, is that true? We continue to blame another for our sins or for problems in our world? Most of us find it easy to blame as a way out of a difficulty. It is a primal temptation. My brothers and sisters: No one made you do it. A spiritually mature person owns his or her truth of having sinned, of having fallen into temptation. As long as you think someone else is your problem, you are stuck. Spiritually mature people do not go around blaming other people. Instead, the spiritually mature person sees a problem and looks for ways to improve it. He or she does not seek out who is at fault. When we automatically seek to blame, it sets up the dynamic to move out of our identity as the beloved and into hating other people who also are beloved children of God.

The temptations of Jesus caution us. Remember that the devil is a deceiver, a total liar. In each of the temptations, he begins, “If you are the Son of God,” so as to cast doubt on His identity. Do not bow before a false god. Jesus is tempted to go his own way, to break with the will of the Father. He is tempted to become not the Suffering Servant that he is sent to be. He is tempted to become a powerful messiah whom the people will honor and rally around. Jesus knows who He is, the Beloved Son of God and He does not fall into the trap of using power for his own aggrandizement. He does not fall into the trap of needing wealth and possessions to bring him joy. He does not fall into the trap of boosting his ego with the prestige of being over other people.

Our mission is different than that mission of Jesus; however, there is the temptation to go our own way, making ourselves independent of God, just like Adam and Eve did.

The devil tempts us as he did Jesus to desire more things and to be better than others. Jesus shows us that path of descent, the choice of denying ourselves power, pleasure, and prestige and possessions is how we affirm our true identity in God as a beloved child. During Lent we all enter into a process of changing and growing in Christ. Jesus did not cling to his power as mighty God and display it during the temptations in the desert. Instead, he let go of all of these desires and emptied himself.

Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are spiritual practices which assist us in letting go.  There is great freedom to be able to not be attached to power, possessions and prestige.

I conclude by sharing this image that I heard years ago. The message is: Do not cling and you will be free.

This is the story of the ring-tailed monkey. The Zulus of Africa have been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the hard-skinned melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him. Satan tempts us with similar traps.

Let Go and Let God affirm your belovedness and give you freedom as a child of God and to live your mission in Christ.

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