This coming Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent for Lectionary Cycle A. From the 4th Sunday to the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sunday gospels include most of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:1-7:29) On the first Sunday in Lent, the traditional reading reverts to several chapter earlier – Mt 4 – to consider “the tempting of Christ in the dessert.” This was preceded by the account of the baptism of Jesus which revealed him as the Son of God: “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ ” (Mt 3:17). Following the temptation, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee staring at Mt 4:12
The temptation setting is in continuity with the scene of Jesus’ baptism. The temptation is connected by the key words “Spirit,” “wilderness,” “Son of God.” In addition, both settings have the motif of the voice of God, which in the wilderness setting is central to the Book of Deuteronomy, from which Jesus quotes. It is also connected, more subtly, by the resistance that both John the Baptist and Satan offer to the obedient response of the Son to the Father’s will.
Boring [162-163] offers that this one scene in the wilderness sets the plot for the whole of Matthew’s narrative and that this one encounter with Satan is only prelude to the resistance that Jesus will face in proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven:
Conflict with Satan is not limited to this pericope, but is the underlying aspect of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, which is the plot of the whole Gospel of Matthew. The friction between Jesus and the Jewish leaders throughout the Gospel, already anticipated in the conflict with Herod, the high priests, and the scribes (and even the hesitation of John to baptize Jesus) is actually a clash of kingdoms. Jesus is the representative of the kingdom of God; Satan also represents a kingdom (12:26). Thus, elsewhere in the Gospel, “test” or “tempt” (peirazō) is used only of the Jewish leaders (16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35), and Jesus always resists them by quoting Scripture, as he does here. The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders is a surface dimension of the underlying discord between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. This is what Matthew is about. God is the hidden actor, and Satan is the hidden opponent, throughout the Gospel; but God is always offstage, and Satan appears only here as a character in the story. Satan is worked into the outline at strategic points, but the conflict between Jesus and Satan is not to be reduced to any one scene. In Matthew’s theology, Satan, though defeated (12:28–29) continues to tempt Jesus during his ministry (16:23), at the crucifixion, and into the time of the church (13:19, 39); Satan is finally abolished at the end time (25:41). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry, which now begins, is told at two levels. It not only portrays the past life of Jesus, but also looks ahead to the post-Easter time, when the disciples must still confront demonic resistance to the gospel message (5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 39)—and not only from outsiders, but from other disciples as well (16:23).
In parishes in which there is an active RICA (OICA) program, the readings from Cycle A are always an option for Masses at which the catechumens (those not yet baptized) and candidates (those already baptized and seeking full communion with the Church) gather for one of the Rites.
Image credit:The Temptation in the Wilderness, Briton Rivière (1898) | Public Domain