The Temptation of Christ by the Devil, Félix-Joseph Barrias (1822–1907), 1860; Philbrook Museum of Art

Fr Neil’s homily for the First Sunday of Lent, 6 March 2022

Because he clings to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.¹

In the Devil’s final attempt to repeat the fall of the first Adam by tempting Christ into sin, he quotes Psalm 91. He has invited Christ to prove that he is the Son of God, tempting him to doubt the Father’s word at his baptism, by throwing himself of the pinnacle of the Temple because as scripture says; “on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”²

Christ would have been well aware that the same psalm also contains the promise of God in our opening sentence, “I will protect him, because he knows my name.”¹

The Lord’s struggle with the Devil contains striking similarities and difference with the account of the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

Christ the second Adam symbolically enters the old garden that had been a place of abundant beauty and life. The Fall turned it into a barren wasteland absent of life. The reality and consequence of sin and death entering into the world could not be clearer.

It is this lifeless desert that is the arena of the temptation by the Devil of Christ, the second Adam, and after Christ has twice referred to scripture of rebut his temptation, the twisting subtlety of the ancient serpent sees him use scripture itself in his final temptation.³

Christ’s triumph, where Adam failed, was in his abiding trust in the Father’s goodness despite the lonely barren waterless wasteland. Christ succeeded while we so often fail, frightened as we are by the storm of death that surrounds us.

What is also worth noting is the Devil attacks Christ and us so often at our strongest points. Our Lord had been announced by the Father at his baptism as the Son of God.⁴ It is a title of immense power. He is to bring about the redemption and salvation of the world. The new creation will come into being via Christ. The devil is there right at its first inception, revealed in the person of Christ, to attempt to despoil it even as it emerges.

His line of attack is to question or lead into doubt the truth of the Father’s bestowed title ‘Son of God’. The Devil offers Christ an alternative role and position via the kingdoms of the world with all their authority and glory. He also twice taunts, “If you are the Son of God”: “Prove yourself, use your power and position to show everyone just who you are, and revel in their fear and adulation.”

I have often noticed and said that the Devil attacks us in the areas of our greatest vulnerability. What I have perhaps failed to make clear is that our areas of vulnerability are often at the point of our greatest strengths and power.

Adam fell because the serpent attacked him through God’s greatest gift to him, Eve.⁵ Of all creation here in Eve was what lifted his heart and mind to its greatest joy.

‘Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.⁶

The greatest gift was the means of his downfall. What are our greatest gifts and where do we wield our most significant power? It will be there that the Devil lurks and temptations are at their greatest. To deny that we have gifts and exercise certain authority in some aspects of our lives it the first deception that blinds us to the temptation of sin. To believe that we are master of our gifts and to act as if they were not God given is the second self deception.

Our greatest means of identifying and overcoming temptations is in our continuous trust of God. He is the originator of all that there is and although we cannot always see clearly the manner and meaning of what he reveals, we are to trust that he will always lead us into all that he has promised. ‘Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, his rod and staff comfort me.’⁷

The way of the cross — from a purely human perspective — seems bleak, hopeless, and the way of despair. Yet, trusting God’s purposes, it is through Golgotha that the Lord leads so that a way might be carved through death into eternal life. It is following our Lord to the foot of the cross that the dynamic extent of the Father’s heart is revealed. It’s here at the Cross, trusting the promises of God, that allows for the fruit of eternal life to blossom. It is here that the noise of the Tempter’s seductive whispers are finally silenced so that we might clearly hear God’s voice call us by name into eternal life.

¹ Psalm 91:14
² Psalm 91:12
³ Luke 4:1–13
⁴ Matthew 3:17
⁵ Genesis 3:6
⁶ Genesis 2:24
⁷ Psalm 23:4