We often say that Jesus is “like us in all things but sin,” and the interpretation we give of that is that Jesus does undergo temptation. The human Jesus, who, according to the Hymn that Paul quotes in his Letter to the Philippians (2: 2-11), empties himself of his divine prerogatives, does indeed undergo temptation in today’s Gospel Reading. The reading opens with Jesus, fresh from his baptism, is filled with the Holy Spirit. He has experienced God’s approving call at his baptism and has an inkling of what he must do. The forty days in the desert are filled not only with fasting, but with prayer. Jesus, focused on the Father’s will, prays to find more clarity about God the Father’s call to him. If he is human, and has given up his divinity, he needs to pray, and his faith – like our own faith – will need to grow as a result of that prayer.
The prayer of Jesus might have been centered on sacred scripture, perhaps the psalms. Each time he is tempted, he has a scriptural citation with which to respond to Satan’s increasingly attractive offers to him. When, finally, Satan dares to quote scripture to Jesus, our Lord’s answer is both clear and enigmatic. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” When we are tempted, do we first ask for and then use the strength, the hope, the nourishment that the Lord offers us in prayer, scripture, and the Eucharist to combat the skill of the one who will even quote Scripture the Son of God?
—Fr. Michael A. Vincent, S.J. serves as associate pastor at the Church of the Gesu, University Heights, OH.