How the Devil works: A homily for the First Sunday of Lent (A)

Devil.gifToday’s readings offer us a glimpse at how the Devil likes to work.  We see, if you will, a pattern he likes to follow.  We see his modus operandi.  I want to look at the Devil’s actions, his strategy in our Gospel today.

First, the Devil tempts Jesus.  Now Jesus had been “led by the Spirit into the desert.”  This is when the Devil likes to attack: when we are in the desert.  Lent is a desert for us, a time of silence and simplicity. The desert is a symbol of one’s getting closer to the Lord.  They warned us in seminary that the Devil works harder the closer one gets to ordination. The devil does not want another priest.  This is true for everyone who seeks God. The closer we get, the more the Devil wants to stop us. He does not want stronger Christians. And so there is dryness, temptation, difficulty in prayer, in life. There, in the midst of our desert, in the midst of our coming closer to Jesus, is the Devil.  First, he tempts us from afar–with a distant idea, or a small wondering, a whisper in the ear (“No need to pray tonight”; “Skip Mass just this once”; “Go ahead, say that thing you shouldn’t” etc). Then….

Then the Devil approaches Jesus.  The Devil likes to cozy up to us, he likes to befriend us. We see him doing this in our first reading, no?  There, the Devil comes up to Eve and begins a conversation with her.  He approaches her, slithers up next to her.  He looks for those times when we are alone. Whenever we are lonely, we are apt to sin.  We must be careful in those moments.  The Devil waited until Adam was someplace else. Adam may or may not have been standing right next to Eve when this took place, but he left her alone in dealing with the devil.  If he wasn’t there, he should have been.  If he was there, then that’s almost worse–he should have stepped in while his wife was being attacked.  The devil approaches Jesus without a crowd of disciples.  He approaches us, too, when we’re alone–even when we’re alone with other people.

Then the Devil tests Jesus: “If you are really the Son of God….”  The Devil tests us.  He wants to know, “If your God is real, then how come you are dealing with this or that thing?” I find it interesting that the devil quotes scripture in trying to make the case that Jesus should get down and worship him.  You see, that’s the thing: the devil tries to justify himself, he tries to make us think his idea is right. He tries theological arguments, as he does with Eve.  For us, they look like this.  “Jesus wants me to be happy, so I should be able to do X or Y,” or, “The psalm says I should drink wine, so I’m going to have 10 glasses tonight,” or, “Jesus threw the table upside down, so I can be angry as much as I want,” or, “Jesus wouldn’t really want me to have to live this or that way…”  We all sometimes here that deceitful voice in our heads, telling us we have a license to do what we know in our heart is categorically wrong.

One of the Devil’s greatest tricks, though, is what he does next. He takes Jesus up to the top of the mountain and issues an empty promise. He promises all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. Do you see the problem here?  All that stuff–it already belonged to Jesus!  The Devil wasn’t fooling anyone.  And Eve?  The Devil promises that she can be like God.  She already was like God, made in his image!  The Devil makes us think we lack what God has already given us!  He makes us think we lack beauty, brains, love, you name it….and then he promises us things that are not his to give, that in point of fact he cannot give, that in point of fact have already been given to us by God!

I’m supposed to talk about stewardship today.  Here’s the thing: I think the Devil–he is the enemy of stewardship.  He wants us to seek ownership of things. “That fruit on the tree is MINE.” He convinced Eve that the fruit on that tree belonged to her, that it was her property.  He tries to convince Jesus that there’s nothing more important than owning a city.  He wants our matra to be, it’s my life, my body, my choice, my parish, my this, my that.   The reality is nothing is ours.  It all belongs to God. My house, my car, my money, my life, my muscle, my brains, my heart–NONE OF IT IS MINE!  Take that you Devil.  It is God and stewardship means giving it back to God.

The last thing the Devil does, is he takes flight.  After he comes and tempts us–whether he wins or fails–he wants nothing to do with us.  God, on the other hand, comes to us, embraces us, and calls us his children. He tells us he will never leave us orphans, that we are his beloved sons and daughters.The Devil, though, comes to destroy us, and then he leaves.  He wants us to be alone. That is ultimately hell: having no one.

May God help us as we fight against the Devil and his temptations during our time in the desert this Lent.