February 26, 2023; Matthew 4: 1-11; First Sunday of Lent
The first sentence of today’s gospel is important, but it is also easily misunderstood. It reads, “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Why would the Spirit of God lead Jesus to be tempted by the devil? Do we not pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation”? Then, why does it seem that God’s Spirit is doing just that? It all depends how you understand the verb, “to lead.”
When we first hear this word, we imagine that the Spirit is leading Jesus in the sense of directing him or forcing him into an evil or dangerous place. But Jesus needed no one to direct him to Satan. In fact, Jesus’ confrontation with Satan was inevitable. One could summarize all of Jesus’ ministry as a battle to defeat Satan. So when the gospel tells us that the Spirit led Jesus, it was not in the sense of manufacturing some kind of test between Jesus and the devil. It was leading in the sense of going ahead of Jesus into a necessary confrontation. The Spirt led Jesus not in the sense of direction, but in the sense of accompaniment. The Spirit went with Jesus to face a battle he could not avoid.
The same is true for us. Many times in life we have to face situations that are both frightful and difficult. We begin to realize that our relationship with our spouse is slipping and that it will take a great deal of work and patience on both sides to make it whole again. One of our children or a close friend makes a disastrous mistake and throws our life into upheaval. So instead of being able to celebrate our relationship, we find that we must carefully and patiently try to help someone else put their life back together. A routine visit to the doctor leads to a diagnosis of cancer which leads to many tests and treatments. We must play the percentage game of what procedures will be successful. We are not sure that we have the strength to push ahead.
When we face any of these difficult situations, there is a tendency for us to ask, “Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why did God put this evil thing in my life? But, it is important for us as Christians to remember that God never puts evil in our life, anymore that God would construct an artificial battle between Jesus and Satan. The evil that comes into our life comes from our own weakness and limitations, the frailty of our bodies, the constraints of human life itself. All of us at one time or another will have to face such struggles.
But then, it will be most important for us to claim the deepest meaning of today’s gospel. As we walk into one of the unavoidable struggles of life, it is important for us to believe that the Spirt of God walks with us. As we prepare to face another standoff with evil, it’s important for us to believe the Spirit leads us in. This does not mean that the battle will be easy, nor does assure that it will be as successful as we would like it to be. It does, however, mean that we will not fight the battles of life alone, because God will be at our side to support us and indeed save us.
5 thoughts on “How the Spirit Leads”
Another beautiful homily! After our (I’m sad to say) rather disappointing homily yesterday as we continue to try to find a church in our new place, I am so happy that you share yours each Monday. God bless!
Love this homily. Another prospective I had not thought of or questioned! Thank you for sharing your wise insights with us. God bless.
Thank you for a helpful interpretation of ‘how’ the Spirit leads- it answered a lot of questions I had .
Father George, thank you. I enjoy your homilies very much and read them as part of my daily devotion. But in this case I think something is missing from the message. Yes, evil comes into our lives because of our human weakness but some evil comes because simply because it can, because it is there in the world, and not because of anything we have done. I don’t think people should think that all evil is the result of their actions or thoughts. That would be a heavy and unnecessary burden to carry on top of everything else that is going on.
Susan, Thanks for your comment. I fully agree. I tried to cover this aspect of evil under “the constraints of human life itself” but this may not have been clear enough. Your intervention corrects that ambiguity.