The Lenten fast has been fixed at forty days in imitation of
a number of scriptural examples, the chief of which is our Lord's own forty
days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. It is quite appropriate,
therefore, that St. Matthew's account of our Lord's temptation is today's
appointed Gospel. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted,
he is able to help those who are tempted (Heb 2:18).
Several lessons very fritting to the season can be learned from this
Gospel. First, we must all expect temptation for we are all the adopted
sons of God (Rom 8:15). Normally, temptations come upon us subtly,
in unexpected forms, and deceitful ways. To often, we have given
in before we even realize that we have been tempted. This happens
because the devil is the lover of deception, the spreader of all falsehood,
the familiar friend of darkness (john 8:44; Eph 6:11; Luke 22:53).
He uses our secret longings and hidden weakenesses to corrupt us.
He waits for the opportune time (Luke 4:13).
Seldom does the devil emerge from the dark, and he does so only when
there is no place to hide, as in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit
led Jesus into the wilderness because only there, apart from the business
and distractions of human society, would the devil be forced to reveal
himself clearly as the principal enemy of the light that enlightens every
man, the Truth himself (John 1:9, 14:6).
The forty days of Lent are meant to be our wilderness. This is
the third lesson, By withdrawing somewhat from our normal way of life,
by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting and self-denial,
by reading and meditation upon God's holy Word, we force the devil to reveal
himself and attack us openly.
What comes to light is this, and this is the fourth lesson: the
temptations of the devil are of three kinds, as Jesus' temptations were
of three kinds. All sin arises from three sources, the lust of the
flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:16).
Thus, the devil must play upon these, hoping that we shall either devote
ourselves to worldly ends or test God idly and presumptuously or even abandon
God entirely for the sake of pride.
Still, such temptation is too hard to bear even normally. Which
one of us would deliberately go into the wilderness alone to confront Satan?
But we do not go alone. This is the last lesson to be learned.
We go in Christ, with Christ in us. We can overcome the adversary
only by the grace of God given us as his adopted sons. It is a very
great comfort to realize that the true Son of God has already overcome
darkness with his own marvellous light (compare 1 Peter 2:9). Therefore,
led by the Holy Spirit, let us go with Christ into the wilderness to be
tempted (Matt 4:1), there by God's grace to overcome our sins and arrive
with renewed repentance and faith at the Easter Feast.