Electronic Prayer Book

First Sunday of Lent


St Matthew 4: 1  — 11

      At that time, Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread”. But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him into the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He has given his angels charge concerning You; and upon their hands they shall bear You up, lest You dash Your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “It is written further, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” Again the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone Satan, for it is written, ‘The Lord your God shall you worship and Him only shall you serve’.” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.


Q.        When did these events take place?

A.         They took place before Jesus began His public life, and immediately after He had been baptised by John the Baptist, when the voice of His heavenly Father was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”


Q.        What spirit led Christ into the desert?

A.         It was the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit Who descended upon Him in the form of a dove; it was that Holy Spirit Who inspires Christians to be faithful to the grace of baptism, to flee the world, to seek solitude, if not of the body, at least of the heart, to do penance, and to find happiness in prayer and in communion with God.


Q.        But why did the Spirit lead Him into the desert where He was to be tempted?

A.         The Holy Spirit Who led Christ had not His temptation in view, but His victory. The divine Redeemer had come to repair the disgrace and ignominy of the human race, and it was necessary that the evil spirit, who had overcome mankind in the person of Adam, should himself be vanquished by man in the person of Jesus Christ. It was therefore proper, says St. Gregory, that the divine Word made flesh should go to attack our enemy, and, fighting as one of us, triumph for us, and by overcoming the tempter secure to us the victory.


Q.        Had Christ any other object in exposing Himself to the assaults of the enemy?

A.         He had. In permitting the evil spirit to assail Him He would teach His followers not to lose courage when assailed by temptations, for as long as they do not yield to them they do not defile the soul, but are an occasion of glory and reward to brave soldiers. He also wished to teach us how to overcome the devil. He wished, as St. Augustine says, to render our victories easy for us by His own victory. He wished to teach that all who consecrate themselves to Him, and especially those who are called to do great things in the Church, should be always ready to meet temptations, for by suffering temptations they learn how to overcome them, and are able to teach others. By overcoming temptations we advance in virtue and gain greater graces and rewards.


Q.        What did Christ merit for us by His long fast?

A.         By His fast He sanctified our fasts, mortifications, and abstinences when we practise them in a true spirit of penance. His example renders easy for us those sufferings by which we conquer the rebellion of the flesh. Lastly, by His fast He instituted and blessed that fast of forty days which the Church has always observed as an apostolic tradition.


Q.        What should we learn from Christ’s first answer to the devil?

A.         Satan, taking occasion of Christ’s hunger, tempted Him to change stones into bread. Christ answered that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This answer teaches us to put our confidence in God in all our necessities. He will provide for all our wants. How many anxieties and sins we would avoid if in our troubles we would put our confidence in God! Let us, then, live the life of the just; let us abandon ourselves without reserve to the mercy of our heavenly Father, and remember that a just man has never been forsaken by God.


Q.        What are we to learn from the answer to the second temptation?

A.         That we should never tempt God. Christ could have come down from the pinnacle of the temple by the ordinary way, and it was tempting God to expect Him. to work an unnecessary miracle to preserve Him if He had cast Himself down from that height, as the devil tempted Him to do. Thus also do we tempt God when we ask for miracles in confirmation of our religion, as faith is sufficient for us. We also tempt God when we ask to be cured of sickness by a miracle when we can be cured by proper medicines. We tempt God when we expect Him to preserve us from sin while we place ourselves unnecessarily in the path of temptation where we are likely to fall.


Q.        What does Christ teach us by His answer to the last temptation?

A.         He teaches us that we should not for all the world give to creatures the honour belongs to God alone. The devil promised Christ all the kingdoms of the earth if falling down He would adore him, and Christ by putting him to flight taught us that we must renounce all things rather than fail to honour God. How often does the devil repeat this temptation by representing to us the temporal advantages to be gained by failing in our duty to God and by promising us the friendship and protection of the great and powerful of the world! Let us learn from Jesus that, come what may, we must never be disobedient or wanting in respect to the awesome majesty of the Lord.


Q.        Is there anything more to be said regarding the nature of the temptations mentioned in this Gospel?

A.         We may observe that Christ, by overcoming them, has vanquished in their very foundations all the temptations that can possibly assail man. If we will but reflect we will see that temptations always arise from love of the flesh, from love of honours, or from love of the things of this world, riches. Now Christ, by refusing to change stones into bread to satisfy His hunger, overcame love of the flesh. By refusing to cast Himself down from the summit of the temple in order that the angels might bear Him up, and thus glorify Himself, He conquered love of honours. And by refusing all the kingdoms of the earth, he conquered love of worldly possessions. Thus He overcame in their very origin the principal passions that wage a continual war against us. And by the merits of His victory He has enabled us to meet by, the grace of God those temptations which may come upon us.


Q.        What are we to understand by those angels who came to serve Jesus?

A.         By them we are to understand the way God treats those who, in the hour of temptation make good use of His grace and remain faithful to Him. He ordinarily gives peace and joy to those who have fought the good fight and resisted temptation. Joseph remained faithful when tempted and was put into prison, but afterward the throne of Egypt was his reward` Susannah remained faithful, and suffered the agonies of death; but Daniel made her innocence known to all. The three children of Babylon remained faithful, and an angel rescued them from the fiery furnace. Let us remain faithful in the time of temptation, and the peace, happiness, and blessings we shall enjoy will be so many invisible angels which the Lord will send to comfort and console us after the battle is over.


Q.        What lesson should we draw from this Gospel?

A.         We should learn to love and practise mortification and penance, and not to lose courage when strongly tempted. We should repel the suggestions of the devil with the maxims and precepts of the Gospel, and look to God for the reward of having suffered and endured for His glory