The National Catholic Review
"Christ in the Wilderness," by Ivan Kramskoy

Yesterday's Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Mark, and it told (in part) of Jesus' temptation in the desert. The lines from Mark read: "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him."

This story of Jesus' temptation, like so many episodes in Jesus' life, can raise more questions than it answers. Why does the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness? Why does Jesus allow this? What does this mean for us in our life of faith? Of the thousands of pages that could be written in response, I've found Aquinas's commentary to be both accessible and illuminating. Here is part of his commentary in the Summa Theologica:

I answer that, Christ wished to be tempted; first that He might strengthen us against temptations. Hence Gregory says in a homily (xvi in Evang.): "It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted, who came also to be slain; in order that by His temptations He might conquer our temptations, just as by His death He overcame our death."
 

Secondly, that we might be warned, so that none, however holy, may think himself safe or free from temptation. Wherefore also He wished to be tempted after His baptism, because, as Hilary says (Super Matth., cap. iii.): "The temptations of the devil assail those principally who are sanctified, for he desires, above all, to overcome the holy. Hence also it is written (Sirach 2): Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation."

Thirdly, in order to give us an example: to teach us, to wit, how to overcome the temptations of the devil. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. iv) that Christ "allowed Himself to be tempted" by the devil, "that He might be our Mediator in overcoming temptations, not only by helping us, but also by giving us an example."

Fourthly, in order to fill us with confidence in His mercy. Hence it is written (Hebrews 4:15): "We have not a high-priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin."

 

Comments

John Swanson | 2/26/2015 - 2:38pm

The reasons expressed by Thomas Aquinas assume that at the time Jesus was in the desert, that he had everything all figured out. He understood he was fully human and fully divine. He understood that he was to die and save all humankind and rise. He understood that all of this would be remembered 2000 years later so that he would be giving us these examples. I doubt that he understood himself that way at that time, and I think most current NT scholarship would agree.

Bruce Snowden | 2/24/2015 - 2:35pm

The extraordinarily stimulating question, “Why did Jesus allow himself to be tempted” answered in the above article by respected sources, pushes me to add my speculative two cents, so here goes.

As truly human, “true Man” the Creed says, did Jesus need to “allow” himself to be tempted, or is temptation a natural consequence of being truly human and “true Man,” Jesus being like us in “all ways except sin.” I suggest Jesus did not have to “allow” himself to be tempted – it came with the territory! Temptation is and of itself not sinful. By experiencing temptation Jesus ratified the Incarnation, en-fleshing for our sake the profound significance of Mary’s “be it done unto me …” As an aside, Blessed Mary was without sin too. Like Jesus, was she also tempted? I'd say "yes."

To a second question equally as stimulating as the first, I add another two cents. Why did "the Spirit drive Jesus into the desert,” there to be tempted. That the Spirit had to “drive” Jesus into the desert to be tempted speaks to me of Jesus’ profound sense of personal righteousness and of his deliberate resistance to temptation, choosing to give the World, Flesh, Devil, no easy access to his soul. So in order to get Jesus to do what he had to be done in fulfillment of his vocation as Savior, his Spirit moved beyond mere coaxing, pushing, to the more aggressive scriptural word, “drive.”

Although lacking theological scriptural erudition, I find speculative theological scriptural reflection delicious food for my soul, hoping not inadvertently ingesting poison, which as in Revelation’s lukewarm discovery is nothing more than spew from the mouth of God!