Reflection for Sunday – March 6, 2022
Readings: Dueteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10: 8-13; Luke 4: 1-13
Preacher: Sr. Joan Sobala
Who is this Satan, anyway?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes Satan for who he is, but in our daily lives, we don’t … or at least we don’t easily recognize Satan for who he is.
The Evil One (a.k.a. Satan, the Adversary) is present wherever people and cultures distance themselves from God. Terms like “sin” and “taking responsibility for our actions” are receding from our vocabulary. Yet the popularity of films from Faust in 1925 to The Witch in 2015 and the Netflix series Evil tell us that Satan is still on our minds.
The contemporary evangelical author, Max Lucado, reminds us that Satan presents himself as attractive, beautiful, engaging, willing to share the good things of life with us. He presents himself, indeed, as God-like. If Satan, the Evil One, the fallen angel who challenges God, were to present himself as ugly, mean and possessive, he would have no allure, and we would have no sin.
It’s this alluring Satan who presents himself to Jesus in the desert.
Jesus’ first temptation—and ours—is possessiveness, the need to have more and better, to satisfy our hungers at any price. Yet our hungers for food, money, sex and power represent only one part of our life—and a limited part at that. To pursue any one of these with single-mindedness is to live distorted lives… to have a warped identity.
The second temptation is to make a god of something that is not God, in the hope that this alternate God will provide what we desperately crave: importance, attention, influence, connection. The alternate god may be a person, a group, an ideology, something addictive. When loyalty is given to this alternate god, when things, people, situations other than God are placed at the center of our lives, all morality is subordinated to this false center. Who we truly are becomes lost.
The third temptation is perhaps the most subtle of all, but the most potent. It is the sense that a person does not have to participate in the safety of his/her life. God will save us despite us. Succumbing to this temptation, we taunt God with our recklessness.
“Throw yourself down from here”—Satan says to Jesus in the third temptation— “lest you dash your foot against a stone. (Luke 4.11)” God becomes a “perfect fit” to meet Jesus’ own specific needs. As for me, I don’t need to help myself. God will provide.
Jesus , in each temptation, rebuffs Satan. Lent reminds us that we need Jesus to recognize the evil, in us and around us, for what it is.
But we can ‘t do this alone.
In our day, with its taste for individualism, people in increasing numbers remove themselves from being active members of the Christian community. When we live in our own bubble, we more easily resist being challenged by the community’s vision and work toward a world where the war against Ukraine could never happen again. For now, we join with Pope Francis is using our Lenten practices of prayer and fasting to stand with the Ukrainian people, to disarm Satan, disarm Putin and all who say no to compassion, justice, and peace in our violent world.
Lent, lived out attentively within the faith community, can help us develop and deepen a spiritual pattern in our life by which we look at Jesus for inspiration and insight and act on what we believe.
Luke is the only Gospel writer who tells us that, at the end of this encounter between Jesus and Satan, Satan goes away, searching for another time when he can tempt Jesus. Satan finds the right moment in the garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prays over, broods over the suffering and death that awaits Him. But there, Satan fails for a fourth time. The power of Satan is not infinite. It cannot annul the power of God.
Jesus goes on to his passion and death and to His Easter Rising. Satan will never tempt Him again.
After Easter, 2022, our own personal work will not be over. Satan will want to continue to get at us, to hold us in his grasp and destroy us as we journey, however unsurely, toward God.
On this First Sunday of Lent, let’s begin this Lenten journey with eagerness—with willing hearts that recognize that, though we dash our foot against the stone, as we strive to be faithful to God, we will not be broken forever.