Today’s Gospel tells us about the temptation of Christ. After a period of fasting, Jesus is hungry. Naturally, this is the first place Satan tempts Him. “Turn these stones into bread.” Likewise, our temptations to sin come in the ways we can most rationalize them after the fact. And our sins often involve what we think of are little things that, if we really think about it, might not even be a sin. God made us physiologically to need energy. Certainly, Jesus has low blood sugar at this point. He has just fasted for so long! He has done something good for God, as we might say. Doesn’t He deserve to use some of His divine power to make something to eat for Himself? Just the same, don’t we deserve a little indulgence here or there, you know, since we’ve been so good?
Besides convincing people he doesn’t exist, perhaps the most cunning move Satan has made is to convince people that he (or his minions) only show up in order to tempt us to monstrous sins, like clubbing our fellow traffic mate over the head. Yet, if we read today’s passage carefully, we can see that the first temptation is quite subtle. We don’t usually get tempted to hit someone with a hammer. But we are tempted to self-indulgence and justification of our sins. We are frequently tempted to think we deserve something we don’t. We are tempted to little cuts here and there against our neighbor; little micro-judgments that slowly accumulate into hatred within our souls until it eventually spills outward. We must realize that Satan hates us, and at the same time, he is playing the long game, as it were. He’s not just interested in your little white lie right now, he’s much more interested in your soul dying one day.
How much more important, then, is it for us to heed the words of Jesus. In rebuking the first temptation, Jesus quotes (and thereby elevates) a teaching from the book of Deuteronomy. We do not live by bread alone. We must depend upon every ‘word’ that comes forth from the mouth of God. We read in St. John’s Gospel that Jesus is the very Logos (word) of God. Jesus Himself proceeds from the ‘mouth of God’ in the most profound sense. Being truly God, He speaks to us as God. We encounter Him as the living Word. We must depend more on Jesus, who proceeds from God, than the physical food we take. Certainly, without bread, we will die bodily. But without the bread from heaven, we will die a much longer and more painful death. It is this bread that Satan tempts us to discard. Twisting our minds to rationalize it away as something other than it is.
Bodily death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. As it suppresses divine truth, modernity thinks otherwise, running in perpetual panic to stave off the nothingness to which they believe we all go. Of course, we absolutely must not reduce these physical needs to nothingness, either in ourselves or our fellow man. Rather, we rightly order them in a both/and, which follows upon the teaching of the Lord. We trust that God will care for us, and that we will receive food for the journey. Primarily in the Eucharist, and secondarily in physical nourishment. The former is of greater absolute importance than the latter.
The more nourishment we receive from the Word of God, the stronger we become in the totality of our being, body and soul. From this, we are less susceptible to the temptations of the evil one. We will then not be hungry or thirsty for spiritual food and drink, and we thus will not let our hunger for purely bodily nourishment overpower us into indulgence. Further, we will hunger and thirst for the right things. For the righteousness of God, for the consummation of the Kingdom, and for beatitude.