Of course in Jesus case there weren’t any problems in him to be brought up to the surface. The Satan simply tried some of his tactics which works well in most human situations hoping that one of those three temptations could work for the Lord. He failed as we know, but in his eagerness to tempt Christ he disclosed his ways of tempting humans. Let us keep in mind those temptations which are like a bait that Satan put on his hook to get us, temptations of focusing on material things rather than on spiritual, temptations to have power, to be in charge in order to control and manipulate others rather than to serve God and care for others, temptations to test God rather than to trust his providence and wisdom. Satan knows that these three work in most cases, now we remember that they are his bait nothing more. These things, these temptations, these baits don’t give us anything but they give us into the power of our enemy - Devil.
As we listen to St Matthew we may think that it is the area of the desert in the Holy Land is captured by devil, so it would be better to bypass it. However we need to remember what the Evangelist wrote at the beginning of the Passage: “Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness.” And the Holy Spirit didn’t abandon the Lord there even if we hear so much about Devil’s activity there. When we experience our desert, our wilderness in various times, situations, people etc. it is usually when we are at our lowest, our weakest, but it doesn’t mean the absence of the Holy Spirit. It is rather a treatment which continues the act of creation from the Genesis as we had it in our first reading: “God breathed into man’s nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.” God works on us, even when because of our sins we look more like mud than humans. He continues to create of us images resembling the qualities we see in his only Son, Jesus Christ.
A couple of days ago I read and interview with our Holy Father Francis who shared how important to him is the prophetic vision of Blessed John Paul II who promoted Divine Mercy. As I reflect on it I believe that it is a feature God want to imprint in us – MERCY. We expect God’s mercy but do we practice mercy toward others. If we find God’s mercy so attractive and important do we, disciples of Christ, desire to be people of mercy for others?
Before I finish this homily let me recall the life of a leader from the Old Testament – King David. When Prophet Samuel was looking for the new King, as God ordered him, he went to the family of Jesse. As we read the story we discover that Jesse had all his sons at home but the youngest one – David. David was looking after his father’s sheep. Now the important question is: “Where did David stay with his Dad’s sheep? In the wilderness, in the desert. Some people could say that Jesse didn’t like his youngest as he kept him in the middle of nowhere. But God knew the reason. The desert was to change David; it was to crush his heart so much that he would write in the Psalm: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit in me.” It wasn’t his Dad Jesse who sent him into wilderness but it was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God who led David into wilderness like he led Jesus. The only difference was that Jesus went into wilderness to strengthen us. David went there to become a man of mercy.
When we think about the desert we imagine a big flat area with plenty of sand. The desert mentioned by St Matthew on this First Sunday of Lent is a different type. It is a very hilly area covered with small rocks rather than soft sand. As I looked at those small rocks covering the area I reflected on the event from the Gospel when an adulteress woman was brought up to Jesus. As we know Jesus said to the people who were eager to stone her: “If any of you is without sin let him throw the first stone.” The wilderness is full of stones that one could collect to stone, to condemn, to hurt others upon seeing their sins but the true desert experience, when one experiences his lowest at the most dramatic level, changes the person so much that upon returning from the desert the person leaves those stones, those excuses to see others sins in order to condemn people. The gift of the desert is a merciful heart placed in the person, the heart that helps others to experience something of mercy of Our God. That’s how God prepared the greatest leader in the Bible.
When I was leaving the Judean Wilderness I was so captivated by this message that as a relict I took with me a few rocks so that they may remind me that if I am up to condemning another human being upon seeing his or her sins I will put this rock into their hands and ask them to hit me very hard to remind me that MERCY is the essence in my dealing with others.
God says: “I want mercy not sacrifice.”