overcoming tempatation

(Thomas, 1SunLent-B, Mark 1:12-15)

On the ordinary Sundays of the year — like last Sunday, for instance — we bless water and sprinkle it on the assembly, a sacramental that reminds us of our baptism. We do not do this during Lent, because the whole liturgical season is baptismal. The lenten readings and prayers often speak to those who are preparing for the sacraments of Christian initiation. From the First Testament we hear stories that the Church understands as prophecies of the waters that make us members of the mystical body of Christ — for example, today’s first and second readings tell the story of Noah and the Flood. The reading from Genesis gives us words that God spoke to Noah, after the flood had ceased and those in the Ark were saved. The First Letter of Peter teaches us that this “salvation through water” is accomplished for us in the sacrament of baptism.

The Sundays in all liturgical seasons offer three cycles of readings. This is true of Lent, but with one special characteristic: The gospel themes for the first two Sundays of Lent are the same for all three cycles. The first Sunday narrates the temptation of Jesus in the desert, as given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Today we heard Mark’s brief account. The gospel readings for the second Sunday of Lent tell us of the Transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. There, three of the disciples saw Jesus transformed, and they heard God’s voice, revealing Jesus as God’s beloved Son. But when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he was alone.

Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus was tempted, and that after the temptation, angels came and served him. The fact that he was tempted reveals his full humanity and what is called his passibility — more about this in a moment. Matthew and Luke tell us more of the story: they narrate three specific kinds of temptation. Where did these stories come from? Peter was not there in the wilderness, nor James nor John. Maybe Jesus himself told them that Satan challenged the Son of Man to change stones into bread. Or we could say that Matthew and Luke themselves were tempted, and because of this they understood what Jesus suffered in the desert.

Next Sunday we will see Jesus bathed in divine splendor on Mount Tabor, but this Sunday we see his humanity, exactly like ours in everything but sin. He was tempted; we are tempted. He did not sin, but sometimes we give way under temptation and we do sin. But sin is not our nature, and if we live according to the nature God gave us, we do not sin, while every sin we commit does at least a little bit of violence to our nature.

The comfort we receive from today’s gospel is in knowing that Jesus shared our experience of temptation. Jesus, enticed by Satan in the wilderness, revealed his passibility. This word is seldom used in English, and we need to distinguish it from “possibility”. Possibility comes from the Latin verb “posse”, which means, “can do”. A possibility is something you or I can do. Passibility comes from the Latin verb “pati”, which means, “to suffer”. The passibility of the incarnate Son of God is his possibility of suffering the passion. He could and did suffer. This comforts us greatly, because he suffered for our sake, not to keep us from being tempted but to keep us from being trapped by it.

Early this morning at our vigil service, we heard a reading from St. Augustine’s Commentary on the Psalms. I’ll conclude with his words: “In Christ we were tempted, for as Christ accepted flesh from us and gave us salvation in return, accepted death from us and gave us life, accepted insults from us and gave us honor, so too he accepted temptation as one of us and gave us the victory.” Now, as we accept the gift of his body and blood, may we recognize that we were tempted in him, and also recognize that in him we can overcome temptation.

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