Most people remember an event in their lives that ended horribly due to something they did. They replay that moment in their minds. Sometimes they even repeat the same mistake in a different context, only to see the same bad outcome. “What would have happened if I only said things differently?” “What if I had chosen to trust my own judgment instead of listening to someone else?” The temptation of Adam by the serpent in the Garden of Eden is that horrible moment for all of humanity. The meeting between Jesus and the devil in the desert is the miraculous chance to “do it over.”
Jesus is uniquely capable of succeeding where Adam failed because Jesus is the humanity of Adam united wholly to the Word of God. Notice that Jesus triumphs over all three of the devil’s temptations because he knows and uses the Word of God. With each of the devil’s temptations, one grander than the previous, Jesus counters with Scriptures. He knows that God’s Word is the truth, and the devil’s words are lies. The devil speaks only to deceive, to mislead one from recognizing the truth. Jesus is the truth.
Just as one can repeat the same mistake over again, one can also achieve the same success. In withstanding the devil’s temptations, Jesus shows us how to respond to lies: with the Word of God. In his triumph on the cross, Jesus gives us the grace to unite our own temptations to his, and so share in his victory over temptation. But, we must be prepared to stand up to the devil – we cannot face temptation untried.
Note that Adam’s failure comes in the garden. Adam has everything he could want. God gave him dominion over creation and all the fruits of the garden, except for the one forbidden fruit. How often do we, in our lives so full of creature comforts and worldly affairs, forget God’s abiding presence? Do we forget that God provides all we enjoy? Do we take God for granted? Adam enjoys the gifts and presence of God, but does not appreciate them.
On the other hand, Jesus has nothing in the desert – he does not even have food. Yet, he has the presence of God and wants for nothing. Lent is our opportunity to experience the desert in the presence of God. But, we do not have to go anywhere to make the desert real. Our penances, prayer exercises, and good works can all be ways in which we focus on the presence of God in our lives. Perhaps our embracing the Word of God will strengthen us as it did for Jesus in the desert.
Jesus did not approach the Passion until he faced temptation. He fulfilled God’s plan first by preparing himself, then through his obedience to the Father. Let us make Lent our preparation by facing the temptations of this world in the presence of God.