Matthew 4:1-11
He was 'tempted as we are' by Rev. Paul Scalia

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

At that time Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."  He said in reply, "It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and will their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone."  Jesus answered him, "Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test."

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."  At this, Jesus said to him, "Get away, Satan!  It is written: The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve,."

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Scripture tells us that Our Lord "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 5:14).  How can this be?  He encountered only three temptations in the desert.  But we experience many more than that. . . on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, Our Lord's temptation in the desert is indeed an experience of all temptations since, as St. Thomas observes, "The matter of all sins were included in the three temptations."  Thus we can see in them a reduction of all temptations to three simple categories; pleasure, popularity and power.

The evil one comes forward with his first temptation: "If you are the Son of god, command that these stones become loaves of bread" (Mt 4:3).  The suggestion is a reasonable one.  Our Lord was hungry at the end of His fast.  Why should He not use His divine power to satisfy His hunger?  The temptation also suggests a solution to His difficult mission: rather than undertake the difficult work of spiritual salvation, could He not choose the easier task of ending man's physical sufferings and want?

In essence, the temptation is to place physical relief or contentment ahead of spiritual growth: pleasure ahead of holiness.  And we know it all too well, as it accounts for most of our sins.  When offered physical consolation as an alternative to prayer and mortification, our fallen human nature gravitates toward the former.  At the very least it keeps us from responding to God's promptings, as we prefer food to fasting, sleep to prayer, entertainment to penance.  But it also leads us to sin, as we choose illegitimate pleasures ahead of morality.

Second, the devil suggests that Our Lord make a magnificent display of His power, a spectacle to win the crowd's awe, admiration and devotion: He should throw Himself from the temple parapet and allow the angels to keep Him from death (cf. Mt4:5-6).  We can see it as a temptation to popularity - to prefer the adulation of the crowds to the will of the Father.

Again, we know this temptation well from our own experience.  Instead of studying Our Lord's life with a view to acquiring His virtues, we become experts in the way of the world with a view to winning its approval.  Thus we omit devotions or acts of faith for fear of what others will think.  If unchecked, this desire for popularity also leads us from the arduous good of the moral life to the easy immorality the world approves.  In the end it prompts us to deny the Faith, as anyone desiring the world's approval must ultimately do.

Finally, the devil tempts Our Lord to power - promising rule over all kingdoms, at the not-so-small cost of worshipping him (cf. Mt 4:8-9).  Here is a temptation that explains so much of our bitterness, wrath, gossip, fighting and grudges: we want power.  We want to be in control.  When we prefer this to the humility of holiness, then we become like beasts clawing at one another just to get ahead or be in charge.

So it is that the three temptations of Our Lord - to pleasure, popularity and power - contain all temptations.  And this truth leads us to another: If Our Lord's three temptations contain all others, then His triumph over them likewise conquers all.  Remember, He did not just happen to be tempted at the end of His time in the desert.  He "was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil" (Mt 4:1).  He went deliberately to do battle with the devil, to be put to the test, to be found victorious, to triumph over all temptation - so that in Him we too might triumph.  He endured these temptations for our sake, that His victory over temptation and sin would be reproduced in us.

Accordingly, we find our victory over temptation only through Him.  We triumph to the extent we are united with Him.  During Lent we often ask Him to grant us precisely this victory: As Thou with Satan didst contend/ And didst the victory win/ O give us strength in The to fight/ In Thee to conquer sin.

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