The Banquet after the Trial
“He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1).
Why would God lead someone into temptation? Indeed, that is exactly what is happening to us now. We are Christ, his mystical body, and the Spirit has led us into the wilderness of Lent. Most of the time, we are too busy to hear God or the devil. Lent comes to force us to be quiet and real, to allow all the stuff in our hearts to bubble up, the angels, the demons, and everything else, and let God clean house. Our Gospel today lays out everything in Lent. In particular, it shows us the parts of our soul that God longs to heal: lust, apathy, and pride.
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished” (Mt. 4:1).
First, we need to recognize the temptation. God allows it. All kinds of trouble happens during Lent. Bishop John says this is the time of year when all his priests call him because of parish drama. If we are really serious about Lent, the devil will stir up everything he can. So why would God allow this? Why would God lead us into temptation? All the junk is already within us. All the mess is in our hearts whether we see it or not. Who knows what your temptation will be. Maybe you will become irritated with others. Maybe you will be overwhelmed with bitterness or anger. We want to blame our problems on others or circumstances. Yet, in reality, all our problems stem from our own hearts. The beehive is full of bees long before the devil comes to stir it up. The Holy Spirit leads us to Lent to let the bees out. Then, we have work to do.
“The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt. 4:3-4).
Lust is conquered by prayer and fasting. We associate lust with pictures or stolen glances. Lust goes much deeper than that. It is the insatiable spirit of always wanting more. This is why the dirty pictures are so devastating to a soul. They train a man or woman to objectify people. Gradually, you begin to see a fellow man and woman as nothing but another object, like money or an IPhone. Lust of the eyes kills the soul’s ability to see God. However, lust applies to every kind of pleasure, whether it is eating, drinking, shopping, you name it. It is the place in the heart that keeps you forever discontent and forever living in phantasy. Lent comes to say: “Wake up and smell the roses.”
How do we wake up? We have to fast. The Church considers fasting one of the most important things a human can do. St. Symeon the New Theologian explains:
"Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing. Fasting, aided by [prayer], penetrates and softens hardness of heart. Where once were the vapors of drunkenness it causes fountains of compunction to spring forth."
Fasting kills lust. Jesus taught us this when he fasted in the desert. Finally, the devil tempted him, but Christ withstood it. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We have to learn how to feast on God’s presence. Fasting trains us to reach out to God and quench our thirst on him.
Apathy is the devil’s second favorite.
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Mt. 4:5-6).
You cannot slip in your faith. You are too important, too holy. You will not be like other people. You do not need to pray more. You do not need to go to confession. You do not need to pay much attention to Lent. These are the sort of little thoughts the imp below loves to whisper. Yet it is a lie. We are weak. Each and everyone of us has feet of clay. Apathy is the sin of feeling you are pretty good as you are. We desperately need to learn to rely on God.
The other reason fasting is so important is that it reveals to us how weak we are. When you are not stuffed full of meat, you realize how little strength you have on your own. It is just then, when we feel weak, that we can learn to turn to God.
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail” (Ps. 69:1-3).
This is how we need to pray. When feeling down, we get a chance to lift our hearts to Christ.
Finally, the devil tempts us with pride.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Mt. 4:8-10).
There is a little something in each of us that wants to be God, and the devil knows it. He recognizes pride better than anyone, because he epitomizes pride. You cannot hide it. So what do you do? Learn to worship God.
Jesus Christ taught us how to defeat evil: not by focusing on sin, but by focusing on God. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” We are living on borrowed time. We only exist because God sustains us. There is only one appropriate way to live: to worship. For this reason, we make Mass the greatest priority in our lives. Second to Mass are our daily prayers. Nothing else really matters in life. Do you want a fulfilled life? This is all that matters.
The desert ends in a banquet.
“Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and ministered to him” (Mt. 4:11).
"On this mountain, the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet… choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine." (Isaiah 25:6)
All the temptations climax in the feast. Lent comes with all kinds of struggles. We are hungry. We get irritable. We complain because the Church calls us to a higher standard. The bees in the heart are stirred up: lust, apathy, and pride. Yet, if we only endure it and turn to Christ on our knees, we will find the angels on the other side. May God give us strength to endure our struggles now so that we can relish in the sumptuous feast prepared ahead.