Opportunities to grow in holiness are found in ordinary moments of each day — and so are temptations. In the daily routines of family life, work and study, we are tempted to compromise our relationship with God and one another. To be human is to experience temptation. Nobody is immune to the many enticements that weaken faith, destroy interior peace and harm our relationship with God and others.
In the first reading, Moses offers detailed advice to the Israelites on how to approach God after they entered the Promised Land. They were to bring first fruits as a thanksgiving offering to the Lord and remember, with words and gestures of gratitude, God’s faithfulness during their oppression, exile and wanderings in the desert.
The passage is preceded and followed by practical advice on all kinds of mundane matters, such as the settling of disputes, punishment for crimes, treatment of animals and marriage laws. In the thick of the concerns of daily life, Moses reminds Israel to be thankful and to remember, not forget, the love of God. To forget God’s loving presence and saving action was Israel’s continual temptation. It is our temptation as well.
All temptations, in one shape or form, set us on the slippery slope to forgetting God as the origin, source and sustainer of our life. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus undergoes his temptation in the solitude of the desert, the place of spiritual battle. The temptations that Jesus endures recapitulate the temptations of Adam and Eve in paradise and Israel in the desert.
Jesus is the Son of God who shows the path of humble obedience to his Father’s will, to the point of death on the cross. Affirming his filial obedience and faithful friendship with God was Jesus’ response to the tempter’s brazen suggestions to choose the corruption of power, the flesh and self-dependence instead.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during 40 years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s servant, totally obedient to the divine will. ... Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father” (No. 539).
In the 40 days of Lent, the church unites herself to Jesus in the desert as he engages in spiritual battle and overcomes the tempter’s suggestion to replace trust and love of God with lesser, even good, things — power, pleasure and self-sufficiency.