We start this Lenten season as we always do with the temptation of Jesus. I am beginning to think that this is the wrong title for this passage, however. It is indeed a temptation of Jesus. He is really tempted. He has come to save all people who suffer and succumb to temptation. So he endures the tempter’s might. But the real point of this passage in all the Gospels is that Jesus does not succumb. I really believe that this should be called the triumph of Christ over temptation. We preach that one of us, a fellow human being, has resisted where Adam and Eve did not. One of us, a real person, a genuine human being, did not succumb to the wicked blandishments of our ancient foe. He won that day.
For the Christian who enters Lent, the message is clear. We are on the winning team. The following weeks will define that victory. It is not quite like we would imagine. It will run through cross, suffering, death, and then to resurrection and new life. But we start on the journey with the sure knowledge that Jesus has defeated Satan. Jesus won. Or if you want that in Latin: Christus Victor.
The Lenten pericopes are ancient. They were chosen to be relaxation of the Lenten discipline which could at times be excessively harsh in the early church. They saw people dying for their faith, being tortured, and persecuted in many ways. They thought this was the way of Christianity, they embraced it. Through penitential acts, self denial, fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, etc., they were part of that great crowd who wore the martyr’s crown. The Irish hermit monks would pray with their arms outstretched to make a cross shape. Try it, one’s arms start to ache before too long. They wanted to share in the pain of Christ. Supposedly, St. Kevin’s cell was so small that he had to stick one hand out the window to perform this act of devotion. A raven came, made a nest in his hand, laid eggs, and fledged her young before he withdrew his arm. I rather doubt that story, but the point it makes is clear.
This first Sunday of Lent teaches us that our Lenten fasting and self denial is not what wins the victory. Our victory is in Christ. Our fasting and prayer flows out of His victory.