Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
(St. Matthew iv. 11)
On Ash Wednesday you and I entered the Holy Season of Lent as we began our journey up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) On that day we were invited to go up to the City of the Jewish Kings or the City of Man that had come closest to a personal relationship with God in order to discover what its citizens will do to God’s only-begotten Son and our Saviour. We were invited to come up higher to study and ponder the final days and unusual end of this Man Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God. We began our Lenten Journey with the hope that we might go up to Jerusalem so that we might be welcomed to go up higher still from the high point of Christ’s Crucifixion through the gate that leads into God’s Kingdom. We were invited by Jesus to go up to Jerusalem so that with and even in Him we might move from death to life and from earth back to Heaven.
But what is the nature of this journey that we have been invited to make with Jesus? It seems to be the culmination of a commitment made long before by Jesus when He began to call us onto His path of life. That road began for Him in the desert or the wilderness where He was tempted to stop His Mission to us before it started. We read that when He began His ministry, He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (St. Matthew iv. 1) Long before He invited us to journey with Him up to Jerusalem, He was tempted by Satan in the desert at the bidding of the Holy Spirit. The Son of God came down from Heaven and He cannot invite us to accompany Him on His return journey to Heaven without redeeming our human nature or making it right with God once again. Adam had made our nature wrong with God. Now Jesus Christ will make it right. Thus, Christ must get under our skin to restore us to our Heavenly Father!
Jesus insists that we must follow Him into the desert in order to see clearly the nature of human temptation to sin. We can confront sin head-on only when we enter an isolated place, free of all distractions so that our focus can be concentrated and sharpened. So, we read: And when Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. (St. Matthew iv. 1,2) The Spirit leads Jesus because as St. Thomas Aquinas says, Christ wished to strengthen us against temptation, warn us that no man is safe or free from temptation, and to give us a way to overcome temptations through confidence in His mercy. (Summary, Summa…iii. xli. 1) For man to return to God, the Son of Man wishes to remind us that like Him, we all shall be tempted and that no one is immune to it. Jesus also wishes to give us a way to conquer temptation by appealing to His mercy and power.
Jesus must resist those temptations that threaten His journey up to Jerusalem for us. My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. Set thy heart aright, and constantly endure. (Ecclus. 2. 1) Fulton Sheen tells us that Jesus is tempted to take three shortcuts from the Cross in His mission to us. (The Life of Christ, Image Press, p. 63) Because Jesus is the Son of God, He is tempted to find an easier and softer way of saving us. We read that when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (St. Matthew 4. 3) Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh. So, naturally enough because He has fasted for forty days, He is exhausted, physically spent, and desperately hungry. The Devil tempts Him to prove that He is the Son of God by satisfying his bodily hunger first and foremost. But though Jesus is a Man, He `is first the Son of God. Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew 5.6) Jesus must first hunger and thirst for God’s will before finding food for his earthly need. He knows that the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (St. Matthew xxvi. 41) Man must fast and pray to overcome the temptation to put the earth, its fruits, and our hunger first. Man’s new life can be right with God only when we put spiritual sustenance before bodily cravings. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread or to make men [fuller and] richer without making them holier. (F. Sheen, Life of Christ, p.66) Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus retorts, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew 4.4) Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto thee. (St. Matthew 6. 33) Jesus rejects the first shortcut to His Cross. He doesn’t want us to think that the eradication of earthly hunger is His priority.
Jesus is prepared for the second temptation. If Satan cannot convince Jesus that the Son of God came down to eradicate world hunger, then he will play upon the vanity of His spirit. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew 5. 6) If the urgency of earthly hunger and the needs of the body will not pull Jesus down, perhaps Jesus can herald in a new mysticism that promises to protect all men from earthly harm and danger. Wouldn’t this be far easier than going up to the Jerusalem of the Cross? By throwing Himself off of the pinnacle of the Temple, Jesus can prove that He is the Son of God. His holiness in the spirit will trigger a miracle no matter what. God has promised the man of faith protection from harm. Jesus is tempted to use miracles to redeem all men. Cast thyself down, the devil exclaims. Prove to us how holy you are! Prove to us that God would not let His only Son perish! Jesus responds It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.(St. Matthew 4. 7) We will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as His majesty is, so is His mercy. (Ecclus. 2.18) Jesus is God’s only Son. Jesus cannot provoke cheap Grace to save us all. The power of miracles lasts for about as long as fallen man’s attention span. God’s loving protection must be embraced in sickness and in health, on good days and bad, and in the midst of a crooked and perverse world. Jesus will embrace the love of God inwardly and spiritually. Jesus cannot clothe himself in wondrous miracles. He must win men’s hearts from the hearts that He breaks from the Cross of His love. Pilate will say, Behold the Man. (St. John xix. 5) Some men will see a fool dying for no reason. Others will see the pure and innocent Son of God cleaving to the Father in death and thus desiring our salvation. Jesus rejects the second shortcut.
Still, the devil does not let up. Now the devil will remind Jesus that He is the Word of God through whom all things were made. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (St. Matthew 4. 8,9) Jesus is tempted to forget about the hungry body and a frustrated soul and to prove that He is the Son of God by making peace with Satan. But the love of God in Jesus’ heart has come down from Heaven to redeem fallen man. The devil tempts Jesus to abandon fallen man and be as God by striking a deal with the Devil and settling for an evil world. Here Jesus is tempted to sever Himself from God and to be ruled by Satan’s despair. Jesus is tempted by that human despair that says that evil can never be overcome or vanquished and so we must make our peace with it. Jesus is tempted not to change and transform fallen man but to surrender to the illusive power of evil. Jesus responds definitively, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (St. Matthew 4. 10)
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) Jesus submits His earthly hunger to the Father’s Word and Will as the body is tamed by the soul. Jesus overcomes the soul’s vainglorious self-conscious magnificence by subjecting His soul to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is moved by Holy Spirit to move up to Jerusalem in order to redeem the whole of human nature and creation. So, in the barrenness of the desert, in the space and place of struggle with temptation, a new clarity emerges. We come to see that the Whole Man must surrender to God for redemption and transformation. We begin to see that Jesus must offer the whole of Human Nature back to God through the Suffering and Death that will become New Life.
Today, let us remember that in Jesus God as Man defeats Satan. St. Thomas tells us that Christ resisted all temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, ‘so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man’, as St. Pope Leo says. (Summa, III, xli. iv. contr.) It is as Man that Jesus Christ rebukes, conquers, and banishes Satan with the Word of God. As Man He will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows; [will be] wounded for our transgressions…and [will be] bruised for our iniquities. By his stripes we [shall be] healed. (Is. liii. 4) The devil vanishes. Behold the Man who silently and humbly comes down the mountain, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, very God and very Man, clothed completely in our frail human flesh with all of us on His mind and in His heart and ready to invite us to journey with Him up to the Jerusalem of His Cross and beyond.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons