Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,
A number of years ago Doug Alderson wrote a beautiful article in Campus Life magazine. It described his 2,000 mile hike down the Appalachian Trail. Doug had just graduated from high school and had lots of unanswered questions: Was there a God? What was the purpose of life? Commenting on all this, Doug wrote: “there had to be more to life than money, TV, parties and getting high…My hike was a search for inner peace, a journey to find myself.” The hike proved to be more difficult than Doug anticipated. At times the trail became dangerously steep. The days were often rainy. Doug’s clothes got soaked, his feet got wet, his body shivered and ached at night. But Doug didn’t give up. The long hours of walking and climbing gave Doug a chance to think. They also gave him a chance to get to know himself better. There was no one around to influence him. Five months later Doug reached home. He was a different person. Even his dog eyed him strangely, as if to say, “Where have you been? What have you done? You look different.” Doug was different. He had found what he was searching for. There was a God. Life had a purpose, and he had a role to play in it. Doug summed up his experience this way: “I was more my own person. I liked what I saw in myself.”
Doug Alderson belongs to that long line of people in history who have gone off alone to think about the meaning and purpose of life. Moses did it. The prophets did it. John the Baptist did it. And, in today’s gospel, Jesus does it. During his 40 days of being alone, Jesus experienced three great temptations. We might compare the three temptations to a preview of a movie. A preview tells us just enough to spoil the gospel story. The temptations of Jesus are like that. They tell us just enough about Jesus to get us interested in him, but not enough to spoil the gospel story. For example, the temptations give us a preview of who Jesus is and what he came to do. Take the first point: who Jesus is.
The first thing the temptations reveal is that Jesus experienced the same inner battle between good and evil that we do. He felt the same inner conflict between right and wrong that we feel. This suggests that Jesus is human like us. But the temptations suggest something more. Although Jesus was tempted as we are, he reacted to temptation differently than we do. Jesus didn’t waver or hesitate in the face of temptation. He didn’t give in to temptation in the least. This suggests that there is something special about Jesus. What is this specialness? The devil himself gives us a clue when he says to Jesus, “If you are God’s Son…” The devil suggests that Jesus is not just another human being. He is God’s Son come to live among us. Years later Paul explained Jesus’ nature this way in his Letter to the Philippians: “[Jesus] always had the nature of God, but he…became like man and appeared in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7). And so the temptations preview the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” Jesus is both man and God.
This brings us to the second point: what Jesus came to do. What mission did he have on earth? The temptations preview the answer to this question also. To see how they do this, we need to recall today’s first reading. Right after Adam was created, the devil tempted him and Adam fell. From that moment on, every man and woman was held in slavery by the devil. Now the devil tempts Jesus. But where Adam fell, Jesus stands firm. This suggests that Jesus has come to free us from slavery. This suggests that Jesus has come to right the wrong of Adam’s first sin. Commenting on Jesus’ mission to do this, Paul says in today’s second reading: “As the one sin condemned all mankind, in the same way the one righteous act sets all mankind free and gives them life.” In other words, Jesus is the “second Adam,” who has come to right the wrong of the “first Adam.” That’s exactly the way Paul explained Jesus’ mission in his Letter to the Corinthians. He writes: “Just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ…the first Adam, made of earth, came from earth; the second Adam came from heaven…just as we wear the likeness of the man-made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 47-49) In other words, Jesus came to be the new Adam of a new human race.
By way of conclusion, then, Jesus’ desert temptations review two important facts about Jesus. First, he is the Son of God became man. Second, he is the new Adam whose mission is to restore life to all people. Today’s readings are a fitting introduction to Lent. They underscore what Lent is all about. It is reliving Jesus’ desert experience against the devil. It is more. It is celebrating Jesus’ victory over the devil. And insofar as we unite ourselves to Jesus in his battle against the devil, to that extent we will share in his victory, also.
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God became man. You went into the desert to be tempted by the devil and to begin your mission as the new Adam. Help us enter the desert with you. Help us share in your Lenten battle that we may share, also, in your Easter victory.
(Courtesy of Mark Link, SJ)
God Bless You,