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The Temptation of Jesus

Lent 1     Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

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St. Matthew 4: 1 — 11

 

Introduction

This reading begins a six-week period of preparation, in fact, spiritual formation for Easter. Excluding the Sundays it will extend for 40 days in remembrance of the “40 days and 40 nights” Jesus spent in the wilderness as preparation for his ministry. While some Christians do not celebrate any traditional Christian festivals, we invite everybody to make this time an offering to the Lord during which we, symbolically, deprive ourselves of some comfort and increase our time dedicated to prayer as a means of identifying with our Lord during His trial. This can also be, for us, a time of rich spiritual preparation for the life of Christian service Jesus calls us into. The reading, Matthew 4: 1 — 11 is a very beautiful moment in our religious history. Every aspect we are given in this text to reflect on has, of course, been passed on to the Church by its founder who underwent the experience. There were no human witnesses. This is His account.

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Some Reflections On Our Text

Verse 1

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted
by the devil.

The passage opens with the word “then”, meaning, immediately after His baptism. At this point, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be put to the test by the devil. The writer of St. Matthew’s Gospel adopts a style which helps us see links with the account of Adam’s temptation (Genesis 3: 1).

Thus Jesus is seen as the Second or New Adam, who will in the succeeding verses be victorious in the conflict in which the first Adam failed. He will win the victory as man, not as God. The temptation of the first Adam took place in a garden of supreme beauty and order. The temptation of the Second Adam took place in a wilderness, symbolising the desolation brought by Adam’s fall. It is thus to be the beginning of a new order, a re-ordering of creation, a restoration of the lost image in which man was originally created. (Genesis 1: 26)

Verses 2 and 3

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.”

After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. We know He would also have been at the point of exhaustion and low resistance. This is the opportunity the devil has been waiting for, and he makes his move. Of course he has no hesitation to stoop to the lowest of the low: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

The full impact of this would have been something like:

“For goodness sake. You have the power. Use it! Why go hungry?
If it’s right to use your powers to feed others, how can it be
wrong to feed yourself!  Who could possibly deny that you
deserve food! Is it a sin to be human?”

This is the type of insidious logic that, the more we listen to it without critically evaluating its shallow veneer, the more we find it enticing. It gives us the perfect “out” we are looking for, and before long we are remarking, “Why not!”

To our Lord, the devil was inviting him to abuse his miraculous powers. Without delay, or any show of extraordinary ability, Jesus does what any person is always able to do. He quotes his favourite book of the Bible (from the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, we might note, and not the shorter Hebrew version):

“It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word
that comes forth from the mouth of God’.”   (Deuteronomy 8:3)

These words refer to Israel in the wilderness. There they, like Jesus, had no bread, yet they were fed by the word of God’s mouth, for God commanded manna to fall from heaven. In other words, “I am here by God’s command and He has but to utter a word, and I shall receive all I need.” We know of no example where Jesus worked a miracle for his own advantage. He operated within a very strict economy of miraculous power unlike some modern self-styled, so-called evangelists who draw crowds with eager expectation of spectacular sights.

Verses 5 and 6

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 ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your
foot against a stone’.”

Then the devil took Jesus into the Holy City and had Him stand on the highest point of the Temple. The tempter challenged Him to throw Himself down to the ground and so force God to send His angels to protect Him. The devil knows the Sacred Scriptures at least superficially, and in this instance quotes Psalm 91: 11 and 12. Of course this is clearly the open abuse of Scripture, and sadly, it is a common method people have always used, even (especially) in our own day, to justify whatever they want.

Jesus sees through this set up. It is supposed to be a temptation to take a short and easy road to recognition as the Messiah, by giving a sign from heaven which even the most incredulous and unspiritual would be compelled to accept.

Verse 7

Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the
Lord, your God, to the test’.”

And so Jesus gives the devil a short shrift by showing him he is out of his depth quoting Scripture he doesn’t understand.

Scripture also says, replied Jesus, (quoting again his favourite book):

‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’
                                                                                   (Deuteronomy 6: 16)

Verses 8 and 9

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and
showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,

and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will
prostrate yourself and worship me.”

The devil finally (in desperation) takes Jesus to a very high mountain and offers him all the kingdoms of the world and their power and glory, saying:

“All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

Certain groups of Jews prostrate or kneel and bow with forehead and nose touching the ground — doing this at specific times of prayer. As a matter of interest several rites of Christians including Hebrew Christians, especially from the Middle East, also pay homage to God in this way. In this Gospel scene, the devil directs our Lord to carry out what is done frequently in daily worship — nothing out of the ordinary, except that the worship is to be directed at him and not God.

Of course, the last thing our Lord would do is to acknowledge the devil’s usurped authority, and do evil, so that good may come of it. Here our Lord condemns one of the most abused moral principles: that it is lawful to do an evil act if good can be achieved by doing so. It is a favourite breach of ethical principle by those who want to grab power and use it to their own advantage.

Verse 10

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’.”

“Get out of my sight”, says Jesus.
“For Scripture also commands:
You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”.
                                                                                                           (Deuteronomy 6: 13)
                                                                        (See also Deuteronomy 10: 20 and 13: 4)

Verse 11

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

The devil is sent from the presence of Jesus, “licking his wounds”. He has been humiliated and put in his place.

With the devil summarily dismissed, the scene changes completely. “……and, behold, angels came and ministered to him”.

This sets a new scene ready for a new beginning: the commencement of the public ministry of Jesus. We should note that the ministry of the angels is not a momentary phenomenon but an on-going service of support, of which we are permitted momentary glances. It is sad that some groups of Christians do not seem to acknowledge the elevated and much emphasised place of the angels in the ministry of Jesus.

This final verse is a beautiful climax to a time of great loneliness and testing. The Greek word “IDOU”, as we translate it, “behold”, is a command to us to see, calling attention to what may be seen or heard, or mentally apprehended in any way (W.E.Vine).

Thus the Church is left with a command to retain before our eyes this heavenly endorsement of our Messiah — the Anointed One who obeys the Father’s Divine Will with absolute faithfulness.

 

Conclusion

True followers of Jesus are here given the privilege to learn how their Master began His work for them, surrounded by the company of heaven. The Christians of the first three centuries never lost sight of this vision gifted to them in this piece of Scripture.
 
No matter how horrific the torture administered to them, or the advance of wild animals to tear them and their children apart as fickle entertainment for the audience of unbelievers, the vision of the Lord Jesus with this heavenly court inspired them until their dying moments. Accounts from present day Christian martyrs also attest the same. May God grant us such strength as we give witness to Him in whatever circumstances the Lord permits.

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Lent 1 ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

 Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

The Temptation of Jesus

Lent 1   Year A                         St. Matthew 4: 1 to 11

1.    On a natural level, we can feel strongly inclined to use our gifts and abilities
       for our own advantage. “Naturally”, if we are able, we want to “get ahead”.  
       Supernaturally however, power, abilities, wealth, opportunities and other
       fortunate advantages are to be seen as gifts for the service of God, whom,
       alone we are to serve. It is not wrong to enjoy the benefits of these, but we
       are called to be thankful and not exclude others from also being helped.
       In the Household of God, there is no room for self-centred possessiveness.

2.    The public impression of the Church today in some parts of the world, is
       often hordes of people flocking to mega churches to be entertained  by
       seemingly endless streams of miracles — many of them quite bizarre.
       People flock from one campaigner to another as he or she continues to
       satisfy the curiosity of the crowds. But fascination with the so-called
       “miraculous” or “magic” as some practitioners are themselves now labeling
       it, has always been a possible source of danger. The Divine Word takes
       second place to the antics of the so-called preacher.

       In this account, our Lord dismisses any temptation to draw attention to
       Himself by some miracle, preferring instead to uphold the simple authority
       of Sacred Scripture which He quotes succinctly from memory. The devil is
       unable to respond.

3.    In the very early days of the Church, its members, if discovered to be
       followers of “The Way”, would be condemned to a cruel death by
       horrendous torture. However, they were also given the opportunity to avoid
       all that “unnecessary suffering” by simply taking a pinch of incense and
       placing it on a few embers in a dish in front of the statue of some deity.
       The challenge from the State was — all you had to do was acknowledge
       the emperor to be supreme and you would be free. The reasoning behind
       the lure was: look how much good could be achieved by doing some
       momentary action which, being merely outward, you didn’t really have to
       mean anyway! In Christian morality it is called, “the end justifies the means”.

       The Church, following our Lord’s teaching, has always stood firmly against
       this most dangerous, distorted, evil and perverse logic. It is one of the most
       commonly committed breaches of morality and is the chief means used by
       every harsh dictator.

The Christian is called simply to listen to the Word of God and keep it — no
matter what the cost.

Let us pray for one another that we will keep our ears and eyes fixed on the Son
of God who is our “Way, Truth and Life,” and seek no substitute of any kind

 

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections.

Matthew 4: 1 — 11

Lent 1    Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

1     1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by
       the devil.

2     He fasted for forty days and forty nights, 2 and afterwards he was
       hungry.

3     The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God,
       command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

4     3 He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone,
       but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’.”

5     4 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on
       the parapet of the temple,

6     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
       ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot
       against a stone’.”

7     Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord,
       your God, to the test’.”

8     Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed
       him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,

9     and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate
       yourself and worship me.” 5

10   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.'”

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

1 [1-11] Jesus, proclaimed Son of God at his baptism, is subjected to a triple temptation. Obedience to the Father is a characteristic of true sonship, and Jesus is tempted by the devil to rebel against God, overtly in the third case, more subtly in the first two. Each refusal of Jesus is expressed in language taken from the Book of Deuteronomy (⇒ Deut 8:3; ⇒ 6:13, ⇒ 16). The testings of Jesus resemble those of Israel during the wandering in the desert and later in Canaan, and the victory of Jesus, the true Israel and the true Son, contrasts with the failure of the ancient and disobedient “son,” the old Israel. In the temptation account Matthew is almost identical with Luke; both seem to have drawn upon the same source.

2 [2] Forty days and forty nights: the same time as that during which Moses remained on Sinai (⇒ Exodus 24:18). The time reference, however, seems primarily intended to recall the forty years during which Israel was tempted in the desert (⇒ Deut 8:2).

3 [4] Cf ⇒ Deut 8:3. Jesus refuses to use his power for his own benefit and accepts whatever God wills.

4 [5-7] The devil supports his proposal by an appeal to the scriptures, ⇒ Psalm 91:11a, ⇒ 12. Unlike Israel (⇒ Deut 6:16), Jesus refuses to “test” God by demanding from him an extraordinary show of power.

5 [9] The worship of Satan to which Jesus is tempted is probably intended to recall Israel’s worship of false gods. His refusal is expressed in the words of ⇒ Deut 6:13.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of
the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in
writing from the copyright owner.

 

 

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