Jesus’ temptation: Catholic homily outline for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C

Expulsion of A&E
Christ the New Adam overcame the temptation which the First Adam did not.

Central idea: Jesus’ temptation. Doctrine: Jesus’ temptation, Lent, and Israel’s forty years in the desert. Practical application: Making God’s merciful love tangible in our daily lives this Lent.

To view Lectionary 24, click here.

Central idea: Jesus’ temptation

Reading 1 Dt 26:4-10

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”

  • Moses sets before the nation of Israel, about to enter the Promised Land, a kind of template for their worship. It is to be primarily thanksgiving for the good they have received from their God. God founded them on Abraham, saved them from Egyptian oppression, and now gives them a land to sustain them. Therefore, they are to offer the first fruits of the land back to God.
  • Our existence and the existence of the world are God’s good gifts to us. It is right for us to be thankful.
    • Evil is privation, the lack of something that should be in a being that is otherwise good. Evil is nothing but the devil’s or our own wounding of the good things God provides.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.

Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.

  • Sound philosophy and our Catholic faith teach us that we have souls that, once created, are immortal. We can harm our souls through our sins. Our bodies, vulnerable as they are, can be harmed in so many ways, including by hunger, thirst, sickness, injuries, and violence. But God will deliver the one who clings to him, regardless of what the body suffers.
  • This does not mean presumption, that is, putting God to the test, as when the devil tempted Jesus to prove God’s favor to him by casting himself down from the parapet of the temple.

Reading 2 Rom 10:8-13

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart
—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • In Christ, the gift of friendship, sonship, and security with God, which was first given to the Jews, is now offered to every human being.
  • “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.” That is what God does. He enriches us with grace and light. No real harm can ever come to us, unless we choose evil ourselves and then never turn away from it.

Gospel Lk 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

  • The devil challenges Jesus to display his divine powers. “This foreshadows the ultimate struggle that Jesus will undergo on the cross, where he hears the mocking words: ‘Save yourself if you are the Son of God and come down from the cross’” (Homiletic Directory (HD) 61).
  • Jesus does not yield to these temptations: not now and not on the cross. “In this way Jesus proves that He truly enters the desert of human existence and does not use His divine power for His own benefit. He really accompanies our life’s pilgrimage and reveals in it the true power of God, which is love ‘to the very end’” (Jn 13:1) (HD 61).
  • “Jesus is subjected to temptation and death in solidarity with us.” Jesus will share his victory over these twin evils with us who have faith in him. (HD 62). The victory is won on Easter morning.

Doctrine: Jesus’ temptation, Lent, and Israel’s forty years in the desert

  • Jesus’ temptation, our Catholic Season of Lent, and Israel’s forty years in the desert are connected.
  • Due to their hardness of heart, the Chosen People spent forty years in the desert, without a land to call their own, doing penance and learning to depend entirely on God.
  • Jesus recapitulated those forty years by fasting for forty days, the limit of human endurance, doing penance for us, enduring temptation by the devil, and depending only on his Father.
  • In our Lenten practices, we participate in Jesus’ desert experience, “in what he underwent and achieved in fasting and being tempted” (HD 58).
  • What or rather who gives our penitential practices value? Christ does.
    • “Christ himself is present and at work in his Church in this holy season, and it is his purifying work in the members of his Body that gives our penitential practices their salvific significance” (HD 58). Christ makes our penance bear fruit.
  • “The forty days of Jesus represent the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the desert; the whole of Israel’s history is concentrated in him. So . . . the history of Israel, which corresponds to our life’s history, finds its ultimate meaning in the Passion that Jesus undergoes.” This passion begins in the desert. (HD 59)
    • The history of Israel “corresponds to our life’s history.” This is worth meditating on.
      • Is there a garden of Eden in my life? A fall? Did I slay my brother? Did I try to build a tower of Babel? Is there a flood in my life? Did God call me to himself and form me? Has God delivered me from slavery? Has he given me a land? Have I conquered anything? Have I been unfaithful time after time? And so on.
    • If my life somehow mirrors the history of Israel, how does Christ enter into all these experiences? The Catechism partly answers this question:
      • “Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfils Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror…. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father” (CCC 539 quoted in HD 60).

Practical application: Making God’s merciful love tangible in our daily lives this Lent

  • In the Sacraments, we share in “the victory of Jesus over temptation and death.” The grace of the sacraments do not turn stones into bread but “hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.” (HD 63)
    • We want our hearts to be more like the heart of Christ. On earth, He was humble and merciful, but strong in doing good.
  • If we want to have a good Lent, then we must receive the Sacraments—Confession and the Holy Eucharist—fruitfully, so as to let God refashion our hearts. A good Lent begins with inner change.
    • The Sacrament of Penance forgives our sins. This is totally necessary, but we also have to turn away from our sins, whatever they are. We need to not commit them in the first place, which becomes more and more possible with grace and growth in the virtues.
      • Given the current state of the Church with the appalling sexual immorality of so many priests, bishops, and cardinals, we can each be determined to live the virtue of chastity ourselves.
  • Small voluntary acts of penance and humble acceptance of the little crosses that come our way are a part of a fruitful Lent.
    • These sufferings are healthy for us.  They let us do penance for our sins, teach us how vulnerable, weak, and lacking in virtues we actually are, and help us see that others are in just as much need, whether they know it or not.
  • With this humbler heart, we can serve others, whether we offer it or it is requested or even demanded. We can perform these services promptly and without anger or impatience or a bad attitude of any kind—in fact, cheerfully.
  • Let’s not forget that prayer for the living and the dead is a spiritual work of merciful love. Every follower of Christ has a mental list of people in need which grows longer every year.
  • Our work is to make “God’s merciful love tangible in [our] daily lives.” This is so that “Christian faith can act as a leaven in a world hungry for God.” This love “fulfills the longing of the human heart.” (HD 63)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

The Homiletic Directory offers the following themes and Catechism points for the First Sunday of Lent

  • CCC 394, 538-540, 2119: the temptation of Jesus
  • CCC 2846-2949: “Lead us not into temptation”
  • CCC 1505: Christ frees from evil
  • CCC 142-143, 309: faith as submission to God, response to God, answer to evil
  • CCC 59-63: God forms his priestly people through Abraham and the Exodus






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