by Father Mike Stubbs
A movie will often end with a suggestion that a sequel may eventually follow and so fulfill the hopes of its makers that it will form part of a long series of blockbusters, like “Star Wars,” “The Hunger Games,” or, better yet, the James Bond 007 movies. A cliffhanger points to another story yet to come.
In a sense, Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 4:1-13, fits into that category. It concludes with the tantalizing observation: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”
The scene takes place in the desert, where Jesus has been fasting for 40 days. Perhaps the devil believes that this lack of food has weakened Jesus’ resolve. At any rate, the devil subjects Jesus to various temptations, which Jesus resists. That is why the devil departs from Jesus for a time, but for a time only. And how long is that?
The Gospels do not supply us with a definitive answer. If Jesus was like us in all things but sin, he most probably was frequently tempted, maybe every day. At the same time, the Gospel of Luke shows us only one more moment when Jesus underwent severe temptation.
That moment took place the evening before he died (Lk 22:39-46). As Jesus prayed in the Mount of Olives, he struggled with the mission that God had entrusted to him. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”
The struggle is so intense, that his sweat becomes like drops of blood. The text states that he was in agony.
The word “agony” derives from the Greek word that means struggle. Originally, it did not necessarily mean an experience of pain or suffering. It only gained that meaning later on. Here, the word describes the internal conflict taking place within Jesus, whether he should comply with God’s will or not.
Twice, Jesus says to the disciples with him, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” The Greek word translated here as “test” may also be translated as “temptation.” The temptation to which Jesus refers is the temptation that he himself is experiencing: to resist the will of God. The devil was back.
But once again, Jesus wins. His death on the cross represents his final victory over the forces of evil. It reflects the decision he made the evening before: to obey God’s will.
Jesus was like us in all things but sin. Like us, he was tempted. But he resisted, and so gives us an example to follow.