Our culture seems to be addicted to doing things easy and fast. We want our internet connections easy. My nieces go into seizures if connecting to the internet takes longer than five seconds. We want setting up our computers to be easy. We want using our cellphones to be easy. We want our food fast. We even want mass to go fast.
The temptations of Christ show us that sometimes the fast and easy way is not only bad for you, but it could be positively demonic. Who is Jesus Christ to us? I would like to submit for your consideration that the temptations of Jesus in the desert give us a privileged insight into what kind of Savior he was to us. It would stand to reason that the better we know the identity of our Savior, the better worshippers and followers we will be of that Savior. I would like to suggest that the great virtue that Jesus exhibits in these temptations could be called POVERTY OF SPIRIT.
First, I will quickly review the temptations so that they are all fixed firmly in our minds.
In the first temptation, Satan asks Jesus to use his divine power to escape his physical hunger. Jesus had not eaten for forty days, and so Satan asks him to transform a stone into a loaf of bread.
In the second temptation, Satan shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world and tells Jesus that he will hand over those kingdoms if he will fall down and worship him.
In the third temptation, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple and demands that Jesus perform a little show for him to prove that he is God–throw yourself down and then have angels catch you.
What do all these temptations have in common? In all these temptations, Satan asks Jesus to compromise. He asks Jesus to take the easy way out. We know that Jesus can transform water into wine, he can make a few loaves multiply into a few thousand, and he can change his own body into nourishment. There is no lack of nutritional miracles in the Gospel. So what’s the big deal about one little stone to bread for himself? That’s the key. If Jesus would have changed that stone into a loaf of bread, it would have been completely selfish–for him alone. Those other miracles that have to do with nourishment are for the sake of the faith and salvation of other people. Jesus did not come to the world for himself, but for others. And he reminds Satan that there is more than one way that we can be nourished. “One does not live on bread alone.”
The first dimension of poverty of spirit is a total reliance upon the heavenly father to nourish us. Life can be hard. We are often tempted to take shortcuts by nourishing ourselves with games, sex, food or any number of distractions. But to be nourished by those means that we no longer have God nourishing us–and you are what you eat. If you sustain your soul with junk then do not be surprised that you feel as if you have a sluggish, confused soul. Nourish yourself with prayer, fasting and works of charity, and then BE surprised by feeling peace, joy and love.
In the second temptation, Satan tells Jesus that he will give him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus simply worships him. At first, this may sound like a strange compromise–of course Jesus would never worship Satan. But what if you look at it this way. Satan tells Jesus that all those kingdoms are his. They will go to hell. They are part of my kingdom. But if you worship me, I will give them to you. Compromise. Cut corners. No one’s watching. You want a kingdom. You don’t have to die for it.” I could see the God of love being tempted by such a suggestion–the possibility that if he worships Satan, he might actually save a number of people from eternal damnation.
Let me explain further. I find that it is interesting that Jesus does not dispute with Satan about the fact that the kingdoms of the world have been handed over to Satan. Ever notice that? The reason why Jesus came to earth was to establish the kingdom of God in the middle of the kingdom of the Evil One. And how does he do that? He does that by suffering and dying on a cross, not by fighting for a throne and lording it over others.
So the second aspect of poverty of spirit is the willingness to suffer as we live out our vocation, not compromising by worshipping other false gods in order to take short cuts.
The third temptation involves Jesus throwing himself down from the temple so that angels can catch him. This is another easy way out – Satan says, “You want worshippers? I’ll show you how to get worshippers. Do something flashy and dramatic. Throw yourself down and have angels catch you. Then you’ll have worshippers. Who needs a lousy cross when you can have angels?” Like I said, this is another short cut. Jesus knows that his gospel is going to be a hard one to hear and even harder to accept. This temptation makes me call to mind that there are many churches that are filling up because they provide something flashy and dramatic rather than the sacrifice of the cross. They are full of people who have been duped by this particular temptation of Satan. Instead, what a Catholic mass offers is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It seems that Jesus was tempted by the possibility that if he used his miracles to be flashy and dramatic, he would save more souls? Try to take note of how Jesus uses his miraculous powers. It is always simply to heal or to build the faith of those around him. As a matter of fact, there are many times that Jesus performs a miracle and then demands that the healed person stay QUIET about it.
The third temptation says “no” to worldly prestige. Jesus responds to Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” The one with poverty of spirit does not demand that God perform miracles in order to believe. The one with poverty of spirit uses his or her talents only to build up another, not to build up one’s self to be noticed.
I think what I find that all three temptations have in common most of all is this: they all suggest that Jesus take his cross and throw it down: feed on bread, wealth, and worldly prestige. Take the short cut. Use your divine power to get what you want. Compromise your identity and worship something else alongside the Father, and I’ll give you what you want.
And what is the opposite of that? What was Jesus called to do? He took up his cross and was nourished by doing the will of his heavenly father. He used his powers for the good of others, taking no wealth or prestige for himself, even though he deserved everything in the world. We deserve much less than Jesus deserves, and yet we often ask for much more out of life than he ever dared to ask. Without compromise, Jesus focused on his mission to serve and save others. But what about us? Have we lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to pick up our cross daily and follow him? Have we lost sight of the fact that we were put on this earth not just to save ourselves, but to help others into heaven?
Ultimately, the reason why poverty of spirit is such a great virtue is this: it is through this kind of renunciation and sacrifice that we empty ourselves of selfishness and actually become vessels that actually bear the spirit of God. Satan fears that. And that is why Satan tries to fill us up with everything else BUT that. A flute needs to be empty to play music. The tabernacle needs to be empty to hold the body of Christ. And sometimes our hearts need to empty out if they are to bear the Spirit of God.
With this in mind, I would like to give y’all a little homework. It is quite simple. I would like each of you to sit quietly somewhere the next time you get the chance and place yourself in the desert with Jesus during his forty days–because that is indeed where we are during these forty days of Lent. You find yourself confronted by Satan who proposes three things that take you away from your cross and your mission in this life, something that takes you away from being nourished by your heavenly father and worshipping him alone. Maybe pray about those things in this very mass, and even share the ones that aren’t too sensitive with family and friends What are those three temptations?
Because once you know what they are, you know what you need to address for the rest of this season. May God grant us all the grace of poverty of spirit.