Text for the First Sunday of Lent 2017: Matthew 4:1-11 – Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness
We may find ourselves puzzled that Jesus could ever be tempted, because, well, He is the divine Son of the Father.
We ask ourselves questions such as these. Why would Jesus ever let the Satan get anywhere near Him, when we ourselves pray earnestly to the Father to “lead us not into temptation / but deliver us from evil”? Or, why would the Satan be so foolish as to make a pass at the Son of God, when to do so would be absolutely the most dangerous decision he ever took? Or, how could the Satan know at what specific points in Jesus’ personality He was “weak,” or “available” to temptation, when gaining such knowledge would have demanded that he acquire an unusual depth of insight into the second divine Person? How could a being so utterly unlike the divine Son ever have the means – intellectual or otherwise – to acquire such specific, and accurate, knowledge about how the divine Son could successfully be tempted?
Let us meditate on this by way of three points, asking Jesus to help us to understand Him and what He Himself knew was happening out there in the desert.
It is a curious, and instructive, fact that humans pay quicker and more comprehensive attention – by fear – to the occasional arrival of evil into their lives, than they do to the arrival of divine grace flowing daily, every minute, into their lives, making them alive:
Romans 5:3-5 (J B Phillips) – This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.
If this were not true of us, then the genre of horror films or TV shows would not be worth producing. We would pay as little attention to them as normally we pay little attention to the daily gift of life and breath and to our soul’s extraordinary capacities. It is because of this fact, and according to my experience of people, that we notice, and wonder about, Satan in this scene more than we notice and wonder about Jesus. We have fallen for a temptation!
Our first point is that we imagine that the Satan is establishing the agenda in this scene, that it is he who has the initiative – Satan actively tempting; Jesus (passively) being tempted. But is not this so obviously false? Isn’t it more likely the case that Jesus, or His Father, had summoned the Satan, long used to winning in this broken world, for some other reason?
Luke 10: 18-20 (J. B. Phillips) – “Yes,” returned Jesus, “I was watching and saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning! It is true that I have given you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the enemy’s power—there is nothing at all that can do you any harm.”
Our second point is that Jesus is very clear that His appearing cannot be perceived by someone, by anyone, unless the Holy Spirit grants him or her the power to recognize Him (so many people in the Gospels had Jesus right there, in their midst, and they did not recognize Him). Unless we want to postulate that the Holy Spirit was given to the Satan (!), we must prayerfully explore the likelihood that the Satan was not sure who Jesus was. Or further, “Nobody comes to me unless he is drawn to me by the Father who sent me….” (John 6:43) Is it not more likely that the Father summoned the Satan to Jesus, having the initiative and maintaining it?
So what if it were the case that the Satan was not sure that Jesus of Nazareth was more than he appeared – “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose parents we know? How can he say that ‘I have come down from Heaven’?” (John 6:42). St. John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE) is he who opens this fascinating line of thought. Satan is not so much tempting Jesus as testing Him, to see whether what John the Baptist had proclaimed about Him was the truth.
For, because he had heard a voice borne from above, and saying, “This is My beloved Son;” and had heard also John bearing so large a witness concerning Him, and after that saw Him as hungry; he was thenceforth in perplexity…. Whence being in perplexity he utters ambiguous sounds. And much as when coming to Adam at the beginning, he feigns things that are not, that he may learn the things that are; even so here also, not knowing clearly the unutterable mystery of the Economy [an ancient way of referring to the Incarnation], and who He may be that is come, he attempts to weave other nets, whereby he thought to know that which was hidden and obscure.
Each of the three times that he tried to find out whether Jesus was more than he appeared to be, Jesus kept Himself hidden! Jesus defeated the Satan’s ability to know who He really was, defeating him and cloaking His identity by the use of apt biblical quotations. Is it not more likely the case that the Satan slinked away more in the dark than ever? Did he not depart troubled of mind, frustrated, and confused?
This way, in my experience, would be much more like the way God works. He recognized instantly the Test that was being put … and unraveled it from the inside, doing so playfully and with utter mastery. The Satan had no idea Who had suddenly come into the world … not quite yet.
14 For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything,
and the night in its swift course was half spent,
15 Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne
leapt into the doomed land,
16 a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree,
Third, and finally, for long I have been troubled at how often this biblical scene is construed as a test of wills, between Christ and His Father (!), between Christ and the Satan. This may offer a promising storyline for the movies – the titanic and cosmic battle between ancient foes, but in fact there cannot be such a contest. The Satan is not even remotely God’s equal. And where foes are ill matched, well, there is no contest.
Yet commentators seem wedded to the conclusion that Jesus was the obedient Son, who submitted to the will of the Father, when long before a man – the Adam and the Eve – each were tested and disobeyed. There is God’s will and there is a human will – a test of wills.
Could we not also explore the possibility that what this famous, and I think uniquely important, scene is showing us is that what Jesus had developed through his thirty years of “hidden life” was a capacity not so much for obedience as for discernment? Is it not more helpful, and more like God, to be showing us that what Jesus had learned was how to notice – how to discern – the difference between, on the one hand, the action of His Father in people, and, on the other hand, the sneaky, deliberately elusive, and undeniably malevolent action of the Satan operating in his confederates?
How delightful it is, and encouraging, that Jesus saw the Satan “coming from a mile away,” as colloquially we say, noticing immediately who he was and what he was trying to discover … and then danced him right into even greater confusion. Jesus ended up testing the Satan … and He did not find him very impressive.
3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. 4 You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them. 
Let us live mindfully, and with confidence and energy, this first week of Lent that is before us to live.
Ganz #1 – Meditation – Tempted (Week 1)
 Remember that the person of Jesus was the second divine Person, that which held in unity the two natures of the incarnate Son – His divine nature and His human nature. So, for the Satan to know Jesus was to be actively knowing God – “The person who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
 St. Thomas Aquinas, OP in Summa Theologica Ia, 43,5 explains that for a human person to know a divine Person, the divine Person to be known must effect a likening through grace in the human person who seeks to know Him. Without such a likening the human person is simply out of his or her league – the difference of natures is simply too vast for a human to bridge on his or her own. If this is true of a good human person whose nature is limited, then how much more unlike the divine Son can there be than pure evil, the Satan, and how utterly ridiculous to imagine the divine Son granting to the Satan the grace of a likening to Him, such that the Satan, then, could know how to tempt the Son?
 The Oxford English Dictionary has as its earliest, and enduring, meaning of the verb “to tempt” – “To try, make trial of, put to the test or proof; to try the quality, worth, or truth.”
 John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 81.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to slink” (first seen in 1347 CE) – Of persons or animals: “To move, go, walk, etc. in a quiet, stealthy, or sneaking manner.”
 God is of course completely free to do exactly as He pleases! But my point is that long experience has taught me to recognize, to become familiar with, the way God tends to act, and as well with all the ways that God very likely would never act.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Wisdom 18:14–16.
 In the sense that the “temptations” are construed as real challenges to Jesus’ willingness to act as His Father desires Him to act, but Jesus submits His will to His Father’s will. Such a line of thought, to this reader, borders on the absurd.
 At the most our tradition does speak of a titanic and cosmic battle. But this battle is between another angel, the Archangel Michael and the fallen Archangel Lucifer, the Satan, the Tempter, or as St. Ignatius of Loyola likes to call that spirit – “the enemy of our human nature.”