February 14, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
February 14, 2016
Fr. George Smiga
Today’s gospel is a tough one, a tough gospel for Jesus. He is in the desert for forty days. He is hungry. He must face a long battle with Satan. Where is the good news in this story? Where can we find hope for our lives? Let me point to two places. The first is the last line: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Jesus for a time.” “That’s good news?” you say, “Doesn’t that mean that although the devil is finished for now, he is coming back? Doesn’t that mean that Jesus will have to struggle with Satan again?” That is exactly what it means. But this line can give us hope.
Sometimes we imagine that our struggle with evil will be quick and easy. But that is not the case. Once the devil is defeated, he intends to come back. If that is true for Jesus, it is certainly true for us. If the devil intends to try again with Jesus, we can be sure that he will try again and again with us. This truth makes it clear that our battle with evil is a lifelong process, and whoever would try to declare victory or defeat on the basis of a single battle is not prepared for the long haul.
Look at our own lives. We have a fault or a habit of sin we are trying to overcome, and we try our best. We seem to be making some progress, gaining some control, and then we fall again. We fail, and we feel weak and worthless. This gospel is telling us that that failure is only one battle. The devil will be back, and the next time with God’s grace we may be able to send him packing. Perhaps there is a dysfunctional relationship in our lives, a relationship that continually causes hurt and anger. So we try to understand, to be strong, to forgive. At times we make progress. We build trust. Then the hurt comes again, and all the anger pours out. We ask, “Why did I even try, what difference did it make?” This gospel reminds us that this failure is only one failure. There will be new opportunities in the future, and healing is not accomplished in a day. When we face the evil that is present in our society—poverty, injustice, violence, ignorance—we try to do our best. Perhaps we help someone to find a job or learn to read. Things seem to be going well. Then there is a disastrous decision or personal set back, and it seems that the little good that we had been able to accomplish is undone. This gospel tells us that those who would take on evil have to be in it for the long haul. Being defeated in one battle does not mean that we have lost for good.
This leads us to the second positive aspect of this gospel. It tells us that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit. That means that when Jesus had to face Satan, God’s spirit was with him. The same, of course, is true for us.
So this gospel of the temptation of Jesus gives us hope in two ways. First, when we have to face evil in our own lives or in our society, neither victory nor defeat can be achieved in one battle. And secondly, when we have to face Satan, this gospel tells us that we will not stand before him alone.