Written by Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C. - Director of Pastoral Life, ACE
The first Sunday of Lent began, you may remember, with the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Jesus does not eat for 40 days, an exercise in some small way shared by us in our Lenten fasting. The devil, sensing that Jesus is growing weak from the fast, arrives to tempt him.
Three times the devil tempts him. First, “Turn these stones into bread.” Next, “Worship me, and I will give you control over all the cities of the world.” Finally, “Throw yourself off this building, and show that God’s angels will catch you.”
In other words, three times the devil says to Jesus, “Let us use your gifts for your own advantage. Use what God has given you … to better yourself.” Here is the great temptation of Jesus in the desert: to use his power for his own good, rather than for the good of others.
Of course, all three times, Jesus refuses and overcomes the temptation. But then, in Luke’s Gospel, a most chilling line: “So the devil withdrew from Jesus, and awaited a more opportune time.” The devil goes off into hiding, and waits for Jesus to be in a position of weakness again.
Well, in the Palm Sunday Gospel–the Gospel of the Passion–the devil gets his wish. Never has Jesus been in a weaker, more vulnerable position–hanging on the cross, breathing his last breaths. And it seems the devil ought to let him die. His main adversary is on the brink of death, and it seems the devil ought to sit back and let it happen. But instead, and rather instructively, something quite different happens: the devil, surprisingly, goes on the attack, using the people surrounding Jesus on the cross.
First, the rulers: “You saved others. Now save yourself.” Next, the soldiers: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Finally, a thief, hanging next to Jesus, offers the third temptation: “Save yourself–and us too.”
The devil of the desert is back, now speaking through others, but with the exact same temptation: “Use your gifts, use what God has given you, for yourself.”
Here in the final days of Lent, the Gospel of Jesus’ Passion, in the most dramatic way possible, asks us to consider: Perhaps our greatest temptations don’t involve our proclivity to chocolate, a hamburger on Fridays, or any of the other things we have given up these 40 days. But rather, in the space cleared by these fasts, to consider: With the gifts God has given me, who am I serving? Who has my life become about?
As part of the fallen human race, each one of us–me, you, everyone–finds ourselves inclined, at different times in our life, to answer: “My life, in this or that way, has become about … me. In this or that way, I’m living primarily for myself.”
In the Gospel of the Passion, Jesus shows us the higher way–the Way of the Cross, the way of Self-Gift, the way of perfect Love. In the Gospel of the Passion, Jesus triumphs definitively over the great temptation: “Use your gifts to save yourself.” He shows us, here, on the Cross, the gifts we have been given are not for ourselves, even our own life is not for ourselves–it is for others.
This is how Jesus lived his whole life. Today, from the Cross, from the ultimate expression of self-gift, Jesus calls us, his disciples: “Come, follow me.”