Testing: context

temptation_of_christ1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. 3 The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” 4 He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” 8 Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, 9 and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” 10 At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Context  From the 4th Sunday to the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sunday gospels include most of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:1-7:29)[1]  On the first Sunday in Lent, the traditional reading reverts to several chapter earlier – Mt 4 – to consider “the tempting of Christ in the desert.”

We would be well served to remind ourselves of the context of our gospel reading:

Mt 3:13-17

Jesus revealed as the Son of God: the baptism of Jesus. “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased ” (Mt 3:17).

Mt 4:1-11

testing of the Son of God in the desert

Mt 4:12-17

beginning of the public ministry in Galilee

Mt 4:18-22

calling of the first disciples

Mt 5:1-7:29

teaching on discipleship, revealing the authority of the Messiah (“Sermon”)

Mt 8:1-9:34

anthology of actions revealing the Messiah’s authority (miracles and signs)

Mt 9:35-10:42

the Son of God’s authority shared with the disciples sent on mission

Everything that surrounds and comes from the pericope points to discipleship, its demands, and ground on which a disciple is called to stand.

Boring [162-163] offers that this one scene in the wilderness sets the plot for the whole of Matthew’s narrative and that this one encounter with Satan in only prelude to the resistance that Jesus will face in proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven:

Conflict with Satan is not limited to this pericope, but is the underlying aspect of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, which is the plot of the whole Gospel of Matthew. The friction between Jesus and the Jewish leaders throughout the Gospel, already anticipated in the conflict with Herod, the high priests, and the scribes (and even the hesitation of John to baptize Jesus) is actually a clash of kingdoms. Jesus is the representative of the kingdom of God; Satan also represents a kingdom (12:26). Thus, elsewhere in the Gospel, “test” or “tempt” (peirazō) is used only of the Jewish leaders (16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35), and Jesus always resists them by quoting Scripture, as he does here. The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders is a surface dimension of the underlying discord between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. This is what Matthew is about. God is the hidden actor, and Satan is the hidden opponent, throughout the Gospel; but God is always offstage, and Satan appears only here as a character in the story. Satan is worked into the outline at strategic points, but the conflict between Jesus and Satan is not to be reduced to any one scene. In Matthew’s theology, Satan, though defeated (12:28–29) continues to tempt Jesus during his ministry (16:23), at the crucifixion, and into the time of the church (13:19, 39); Satan is finally abolished at the end time (25:41). The narrative of Jesus’ ministry, which now begins, is told at two levels. It not only portrays the past life of Jesus, but also looks ahead to the post-Easter time, when the disciples must still confront demonic resistance to the gospel message (5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 39)—and not only from outsiders, but from other disciples as well (16:23).

There is also a context for its inclusion in this season. On this same Sunday everywhere in Catholic Churches the RCIA catechumens (those not yet baptized) and candidates (those already baptized and seeking full communion with the Church) will gather for the Rite of Sending. The parish community will affirm their preparedness, bless them, and send them to the cathedral where the Bishop will receive them. The catechumen will be “accepted” and declared the Elect. Their names symbolically written in the “Book of Life.” The candidates too are welcomed and affirmed in their decision of faith.

Source

  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 161-66

[1]        In a typical Year A of the Lectionary, unless Easter is very late – April 20th or later – the period prior to Lent will include only portions of the 4th-9th Sunday gospels.

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