Once again, we have begun our journey of Lent together, that special time when we try to deepen our relationship with the Lord and grow in our faith.

Lent is indeed a journey, and like all journeys, several things are needed to journey well. Any journey needs a destination; after all, we need to know where we are going. Our destination during Lent is, of course, Easter, when we will once again celebrate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We also need directions and pointers to help us go the right way, and our Scripture readings provide a wonderful guide. 

With each Sunday during Lent, we will see how God’s plan for us unfolds and how the carefully chosen readings each day at Mass can guide us and keep us on course. On this first Sunday, we always hear the Gospel that recounts Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In Lent, like Jesus, we are filled and led by the Holy Spirit to face our demons and to choose the right path.

The First Reading (Deuteronomy 26: 4-10) provides a summary of faith and a compressed history of God’s chosen people. God’s people were nobodies, wandering from place to place; but God chose them and made them into a great nation. It is a reminder to us of our origins and who we are; but it is also an invitation to have faith and always chose to follow the Lord. Psalm 91 is a great response to our First Reading. It sings of God’s love and care for those who chose to follow Him. Perhaps the psalm was also chosen because it is the psalm quoted by the devil in our Gospel. As Shakespeare put it in the Merchant of Venice, even the “devil can cite Scripture for his purpose!”

The Second Reading (Romans 10: 8-13) also gives us a summary of our faith, our origins and the choices before us. Jesus, who died and rose, is our Lord. St. Paul gives us a double choice. Let us believe this with our heart, so that we may be justified (that is in a right relationship with God) and then let us confess this faith with our mouth, so as to be saved.

This year we hear St. Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptations in the desert by the devil (Luke 4: 1-13). Matthew and Mark sometimes use words such as Satan or the tempter, but Luke uses the word diabolon (from which comes our word diabolical). It is a significant and descriptive word, as it literally means “the one who throws across” or “who trips up another.” The devil certainly does that!

The temptations are subtle, clever and attractive. After all, if they were not so, they would not be real temptations. The first temptation sounds so reasonable: as British priest and writer Msgr. Ronald Knox once put it so well, “the devil knows his market.” After 40 days in the desert, Jesus is hungry (remember, he is truly human as well as truly God). So, the devil asks him: as God, why not turn a stone into bread? Notice that the devil goads Jesus too: if you are the Son of God… The devil is also subtle and cunning. Just as with Adam and Eve in the garden (why don’t you eat of the apple?), the devil tempts someone else to do his dirty work. He does not do it himself. 

The second temptation mixes lies and truths (a consistent feature of evil). The devil is indeed the “ruler of the world” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4: 4), but this power is only temporary and he confuses power with worship. Also, the devil does not mention what the cost of bowing to him will be: slavery to him. In the third temptation, the devil twists the words of Scripture for his purpose. The temptation looks and sounds like an act of faith in God, but in reality it is testing God. It is also a case of “magical thinking”; that is if I do x then God will have to do y. 

We are not faced with such grand temptations and choices, but the thrust behind them is the same. Let us rely on God and not on “bread,” let us have Jesus as our Lord and ruler and not the world, and let us have true faith and trust in God and not put God to the test.