A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 12)
1st Sunday of Lent, Year A – February 13, 2005
“Jesus Fasted Forty Days and Nights and Was Tempted”
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 // Rom 5:12-19 // Mt 4:1-11
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Fritzie Fritshall, one of the prisoners who survived the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz in World War II, spoke of what it means to be truly hungry: “How do I describe hunger to someone that has probably had breakfast and lunch today? Or even if you’re dieting, or even if you are fasting for a day. I think hunger is when the pit of your stomach hurts. When you would sell your soul for a potato or a slice of bread.” I too had an experience of “hunger”, although not as intensely as that experienced by Fritzie in the concentration camp. In the eighties, Pope John Paul II invited leaders of various world religions and Christian communities to gather in Assisi for a day of prayer for peace. In response to his appeal to the Church to offer prayer and sacrifice for that important world event, I ventured to do a strict fast during the ecumenical day of prayer itself. Other than water, I decided I would not take anything else. In the afternoon, my stomach was sore with acidic pangs and my knees started to tremble. My eyes would not focus and I had a terrible headache. I was greatly tempted to run to the refectory and end my sacrificial fast quickly. But instead of giving up, I prayed to God that he may give me the strength to endure. At sunset, I had to go to bed to avoid fainting. I continued my fast until the following day, in union with the religious leaders gathered in Assisi who were invoking God’s gift of peace, each in his own way.
Against this backdrop of human hunger, it is easy to understand the enormity of the struggle of Jesus against Satan who tempted him after having fasted for forty days and forty nights in the arid, barren and haunting desert. When Jesus was most vulnerable and weak, Satan came to challenge his irrevocable decision to be united with the saving will of God the Father, who avowed his paternal relationship with Jesus at his baptism in the River Jordan: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). The threefold temptation of the devil assailed Jesus’ baptismal commitment to obey the Father’s messianic plan. The temptation was meant to weaken his integral, filial love of God and pervert the meaning of his messianic mission as the loving son and faithful Servant of Yahweh.
The Gospel passage (Mt 4:1-11) read on this first Sunday of Lent is a great baptismal catechesis for catechumens and the already baptized. Indeed, the baptismal character of the Lenten season is experienced not only by the catechumens, but by the baptized community as well. Together with the catechumens, Lent becomes for them an opportune season to delve into the meaning of their baptismal consecration, which includes a victorious struggle against evil.
This Lenten Sunday’s Gospel passage tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert to be tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at the River Jordan for his messianic mission is the same Holy Spirit who led Jesus for his victorious conflict against the wiles of the tempter. The liturgical scholar, Adrian Nocent remarked: “Right from the beginning, the Spirit has a very specific activity. Just as he presided over the creation of the world, so he gives rise to a new creation and leads Christ into the desert in order to subject him to a conflict which, unlike that of Adam, will end in victory and be the prelude to the reconstruction and reunification of the world.” The Holy Spirit, the principle of new creation, invested Jesus with power as the beloved Servant of Yahweh. The anointing Spirit then impelled the newly baptized Jesus into the Judean wilderness for an open confrontation with the devil, in which Jesus would emerge victorious. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the creative force that catalyzed the passion of Christ in the desert and made possible his victorious struggle against all evil and sin.
The evangelist Matthew narrates that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, and afterwards he was hungry. As the new Adam and the ideal representative of the people of Israel, Jesus underwent in the desert the same excruciating hunger experienced by God’s Chosen People in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The purpose of the hunger ordeal of Israel in the desert can be gleaned from Dt 8:2-3: “Remember how Yahweh your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart – whether you would keep his commandments or not. He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.” The Lord Yahweh allowed his people Israel to feel the ordeal of hunger in the wilderness and miraculously provided for them bread from heaven that they may learn an important reality: the absolute preeminence of the word of God. One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of their existence is not the satisfaction of one’s physical needs, but obedience to the saving word of Yahweh, their loving God.
Jesus’ fasting of forty days and forty nights also evokes the experience of the forty-day fast of Moses (Ex 34:28; Dt 9:9, 18) and that of Elijah (I Kgs 19:8). Each of these ancient prophets established and reaffirmed the covenant of Israel with God at Mount Sinai, also identified as Mount Horeb. In the Bible, the number “40” signifies a time of preparation for a special mission and for an encounter with God’s blessings, mercy or judgment. The word of God revealed to Moses and Elijah on Mount Sinai, or Mount Horeb, necessitated the hunger and desert ordeal as its preparation and context. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation, we see a parallel: the hunger ordeal of Jesus in the desert wilderness prepared him for proclaiming the “word” of the Sermon of the Mount.
The threefold temptation of Jesus in the desert was meant to pervert his messianic mission and the way that it would be accomplished. The devil tempted him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Each time, Jesus rebuffed the attack and expressed his rejection using the word of God (cf. Dt 8:3; 6:16, 13). The first temptation challenged Jesus to change stones into loaves of bread. Jesus resisted the wily suggestion by citing Dt 8:3: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Indeed, Jesus does not fulfill his messianic mission by being a breadbasket king, but by proclaiming the living bread – the word of God – the word of life.
The second temptation, in which the devil used the scriptural citation from Ps 91:11-12, instigated Jesus to pervert his power by producing a spectacular “sign” – to throw himself from the parapet of the temple – trying to convince him that “He will command the angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus responded by quoting Dt. 6:16, a warning against rashness and presumption: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Vain ostentation would not glorify God. Jesus, in his messianic work, would not resort to a spectacular, but empty display of power to compel belief in unbelievers.
The third temptation was the most outrageous. Showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, the devil boasted: “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me” (Mt 4:9). The biblical scholar, Adrian Leske comments: “The third test is the ultimate temptation for power and wealth … A blasphemy is already implied in the offer “all these I will give you”, so clearly violating the Creator’s rights as proclaimed in the faith of every Israelite: “The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness.” It is through his service to God and fulfilling God’s purpose that all authority will become that of God’s Son.” The third temptation was most subtle. It was a temptation to compromise, to come to terms and to play the power game. Indeed, the temptation to secular messianism, the use of political power to accomplish the ends of the messianic mission, perverted the very notion of Yahweh’s Suffering Servant, humbly obedient to the divine saving plan. With severity, Jesus thus dismissed the tempter, saying: “Get away Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone you shall serve.’” (Mt 4:10).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 539-540, gives us a beautiful insight on the salvific meaning of Jesus’ temptation: “Jesus’ victory over the Tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us … By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” Indeed, the sacred season of Lent is a sacramental sign of our conversion – of the Church’s participation in the mystery of Christ who fasted, was tempted, but remained victorious over temptation.
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Do we believe that the Lenten season is a sign of grace – a sacred sign which renders present the saving value of Christ who fasted in the desert and victoriously asserted his total commitment to the Father’s saving plan?
B. United with Christ, in what ways are we tempted? In what ways are we victorious over evil temptations?
C. In this season of Lent, are we ready to relive with greater intensity the baptismal dynamics of ongoing conversion-sanctification? Are we ready to discover more fully the meaning of Christian discipleship, to listen more intently to the word of God, and to practice more assiduously the Lenten works of penance: fasting-prayer-almsgiving?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father,
your Son Jesus, the Servant in whom you were well-pleased,
chose to emphasize his solidarity with sinners
by undergoing the trial of temptation in the wilderness.
Led by the Holy Spirit into the desert
for a victorious struggle against evil,
Jesus fasted for forty days and nights and was tempted.
We thank you, all-powerful Father,
for the victory of Jesus over all temptations,
especially for his ultimate victory at his life-giving Passion on the cross.
Weak, hungry and vulnerable in the arid and haunting wilderness of Judea,
he remained obedient to your saving will and trusted in your love.
He showed us how to struggle against evil temptations
by relying on your divine providence
and by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this holy season of Lent, sacred sign of our conversion,
we unite ourselves with the saving mystery of Christ
who was tempted and remained victorious.
Inspired by him,
help us to be faithful to our baptismal consecration
and relish the profound dignity of being your beloved children.
By the grace of his sacrificial offering,
help us to realize with joy
that Jesus Christ has definitely vanquished the Tempter
and that we are called to share in your Son’s victory and glory,
now and forever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.” (Mt 4:1)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray that we may overcome temptations and be delivered from all evil. Participate in Operation Rice Bowl, the Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten program. Give some of your time to visit the website: www.catholicrelief.org to learn more about the work that the Catholic Relief Services is doing on our behalf around the world. The works of mercy in the first week of Lent are aimed to help the hungry people and the poor farmers of Eritrea. Please do not forget also to assist spiritually, morally and materially the victims of the tsunami in Southern Asia.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may truly be united with Christ who was tempted and is victorious and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 12): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323