Mercy is a good theme for Lent this year. Pope Francis has asked us to make mercy a point of focus through this year. If you will check out our “Door of Mercy” in the narthex, you will see the quote above. Each Sunday of Lent there will be a different quote from Pope Francis’ Papal Bull on the Year of Mercy. You might reflect on this week’s quote by asking yourself: “How is mercy the very foundation of my life?” Throughout the week, at the end of the day, look back and see where you experienced mercy. Think about how you can show mercy the next day. Ask God to help you.
In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. Besides the obvious meaning, the word ‘bread’ can mean material things in general. The devil was telling Jesus to use his special powers to give the people all the material things they could possibly want. But Jesus knew that material things by themselves will never satisfy people. His chief task was to nourish their minds and hearts with the word of God.
This was the temptation to give people what they want rather than what they need. The temptation to please the crowd by giving them what will satisfy their immediate wants, when they don’t know what they really need.
We have deeper hungers and greater needs. What does the heart really hunger for? It’s certainly not bread. Bread is what the body hungers for. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes the people came back the next day looking for more bread. But Jesus refused to give it to them. He said, “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for the food that endures to eternal life.”
For a spiritual teacher the food of the spirit has to take priority over the good of the body. To give priority to man’s physical needs would mean to diminish man, to treat him as no higher than a beast. We too are tempted to live for material things alone. It’s not that we deny the spiritual, but we neglect it.
The second temptation was to set up a political kingdom, to resort to power rather than love. Power offers an easy substitute for the hard work love can call for. It’s easier to control people than to love them, easier to dominate people than to become their servant. Jesus didn’t come to rule but to serve. He didn’t cling to his divine power, but emptied himself and became the loving servant of all. We are always tempted to replace love by power.
The third temptation consisted in doing something spectacular in order to elicit faith. The idea was attractive. A stunt like that would have made him the talk of Jerusalem. But sensationalism redounds to one’s own glory rather than to the glory of God. Jesus refused to jump. He didn’t want screaming fans. He wanted followers, people who would imitate his way of living.
What are the temptations we face in life? Where do we need God’s grace so that we can be the followers Jesus wants?