Cardinal Michael's Homily 1st Sunday of Lent 2023

Posted on 28th February, 2023

First Sunday of Lent (A)

(25-26 February 2023)


“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

The temptations of Jesus come immediately after his baptism in the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist. What a contrast! At his baptism Jesus was among the crowd; by immersing himself in the waters of the Jordan he was immersing himself into sinful humanity as a whole. As St Paul has told us in the Second Reading: Jesus is the new Adam who has come to renew humanity. But here, in the desert, Jesus is alone, in complete solitude. At the moment of his baptism Jesus had an experience of his intimate union with the Father, his Father who confirmed his mission of salvation. We can imagine Jesus, on fire, as it were, after this experience, ready and eager to begin proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and yet he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. The time for active preaching has not yet come, and perhaps he does not feel any more this intimate communion with his Father. He is to be tempted by the devil. This is somewhat mysterious; but since the Spirit leads him to this, it cannot be bad; we can understand it as a sort of preparation for his mission. Whatever the reason for the temptations, we should not think that the time spent in the desert was easy for Jesus.


Matthew adds: “He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry”.

“Forty days and forty nights” is just a biblical way of saying “for a long period of time”.

The mention of hunger is important as it proves that Jesus was truly human. He must have found the fasting trying.


The first temptation – to turn stones into bread - is to use power and rank for one’s own benefit. This is a very frequent temptation, and unfortunately we see many people, eager to climb up the social scale, giving way to it. It is a temptation against which Pope Francis continuously warns all those who are called to serve in the Church. Jesus does not give in to this temptation. It does not correspond to his spirit and is not at all his way of acting. He replies to Satan: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.  It is with humble reliance on his Father that Jesus refuses this temptation.


The second temptation is that of seeking notoriety. “Throw yourself down” so that God can save you. Celebrities use also sorts of tricks to make a name for themselves and to remain in the limelight. Jesus acts very differently. He is not looking for glory. He evades publicity. When the crowd whom he had nourished by multiplying bread wanted to proclaim him king, he withdrew to the mountain by himself (Jn 6:15). To those whom he cured, he often said “Do not tell anyone”. He did not work miracles in order to increase his fame. They were expressions of his love, of his compassion for those who were suffering.

The third temptation is the desire for power, the wish to dominate just for the pleasure of dominating, and to use all means, whether legitimate or not, to retain power. This we also see in our world today, unfortunately. Jesus, by way of contrast, does not dominate, he is never overpowering. He calls people to follow him, he invites, he encourages. He is the Master, but he takes on the role of a servant, washing the feet of his disciples. He is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He is the image of the invisible God, the God who is ready to sacrifice his only Son for our salvation. It is this God, his Father, that Jesus recognizes, and Him alone.


What lessons can we draw from this meditation on the way Jesus responded to temptations? Perhaps the first thing is not to be afraid when we experience temptations, when we meet with difficulties. At such times we should not panic, rather we should remain steadfast, firm in our faith in God who loves us. There is no need to be upset when temptations come. We should simply keep our eyes on Jesus. At the same time we should nourish ourselves on the Word of God which will become for us, as it was for Jesus, our light and our guide.


Jesus felt hungry, but he refused to turn stones into bread. We have the advantage of being able to eat the Bread of Heaven, to nourish ourselves on the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. May this Eucharist be for us a source of strength so that we may live this Lenten period fully, faithfully and joyfully, not for our own satisfaction, but solely for the glory of God. Amen.


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