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The following interpretation of the three great tests Jesus faces in this week’s gospel is adapted from Fr. Richard Rohr’s book Radical Grace:

The First Temptation

The first temptation of Christ was to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). Sounds good, but this is likely our need to be immediately impressive and effective, successful, relevant, and make things happen right now. It is our natural desire to look good…. You can be a very popular and successful person when you operate at this level, and you will easily think very well of yourself. That is why Jesus has to face that temptation first, to move us beyond what we first want to what we really need. In refusing to be immediately relevant, in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus says, Go deeper. What do you really desire? It is not usually what you first think. “It is not by bread alone that we live” (Matthew 4:4).

The Second Temptation

The second temptation of Jesus is another one that all of us must face. Satan takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolizing the top of the religious world itself, and tells him to play “righteousness games” with God. “Throw yourself off and He’ll catch you” (Matthew 4:6). It’s the only time in the Bible where the devil quotes Scripture. Holy words can be used for evil purposes, it surely says. This second temptation is to think of yourself as saved, superior to others, the moral elite on the side of God and religion, and to quote arguable Scriptures for your own purpose—being against God in the name of God. Actually it is quite common.

The Third Temptation

The third human temptation is the need for control, importance, and power. The devil tells Jesus to bow down before the power systems of this world: “All of these I will give to you” (Matthew 4:8). Make these into your actual belief and security system. Formal atheism is rare, but this kind of practical daily atheism is almost the norm.

Jesus refuses to bow down before these little kingdoms… He knows that the price of such love of power is to “fall at Satan’s feet and worship him!” (Matthew 4:9)… [Jesus says] ,“You must worship the Lord your God, and serve God alone,” then the devil left him (Matthew 4:10-11). When you can face these kinds of well-disguised demons, Satan doesn’t have a chance.


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