“Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” – The Collect for the First Sunday in Lent (BCP, 218)
As you can tell by the Collect above, this Sunday is all about temptation. The tempter’s work starts early on as he finds a particular weakness within Adam and Eve (note Gen 3:6 specifically says that Adam was there the whole time) and exploits it. He invites them to question God’s wisdom and resolve, he cracks open within them the thought that they too could be like God, and with that, they fall into the trap, eat the fruit, and have their eyes opened to the difference between good and evil. Genesis tells us the first thing noticed what their nakedness, but I doubt that puritanical American opinions on the human body was the gift given from the forbidden fruit. Instead, it seems that their nakedness was a metaphor for their vulnerability. They now knew good from evil, they knew that the serpent had led them to temptation and they had made a mistake. They longed for the goodness of God’s perfect vision for them.
Fast forward to Matthew, and we find the tempter, personified in a new way, seeking out Jesus’ particular weaknesses in the wilderness. The story doesn’t tell us how long Jesus had been in the desert when the devil showed up, though you could read it as if all of this is happening on the 40th day. Whether it is day 2 or day 40, the truth remains that the fasting Jesus was hungry. The easiest entry point for Satan was through food. When that didn’t work, he moved on to testing the relationship of the Godhead. If your Father loves you so much, certainly he’ll catch you when you fall. But Jesus is unswayed. Finally, the devil goes back after Jesus’ humanity, aiming for that part that lies deep within all of us that seeks after power and control. “Worship me, and this can all be yours.” Jesus, however, doesn’t just know good from evil, he is good – perfect goodness. He withstands the temptations by placing his full trust in the Father; something he’ll have to do again and again over the next three years.
We are not immune to the work of the tempter. Even know, he knows the particular weakness of each of us. He knows our insecurities and our areas of excessive pride, and will attempt to exploit them and in so doing, turn us away from our relationship with God. The truth of the matter is, the tempter will succeed more often than not, but the Good News is that the God who created us, vulnerabilities and all, is mighty to save. Again and again, he’ll receive us back into his arms and recreate us as his beloved children.