In the Extraordinary Form, the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent relates when Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11). In the homily, our priest focused in on the second temptation, where the devil challenges Jesus to throw himself from the top of the temple in Jerusalem to prove that He is the Son of God. Jesus replies that scripture states not to put God to the test.
Usually, this temptation and reply is taught pretty straight on: the temptation we have is to test God at every turn, such as “If I do this, You do that” or, “If You want me to do this, give me a sign” or, even worse, “I won’t believe unless You show me You exist.” Of course, scripture teaches us not to put God, the all-perfect, all-loving being to the test. He will do what is best for us if we let him, and demanding signs is not usually the best way of going about it.
Rather than going this route, our priest took a different approach. He noted that the temptation on face seems sort of silly: why would throwing yourself off a building be a temptation for most people? Food, power (the subjects of the other two temptations), sure, but plunging to almost certain death? Not so much. Instead of the straightforward temptation to test God, what the devil was really offering was the chance to avoid the crucifixion. If Jesus were to jump from the top of the temple in Jerusalem, and be carried by angels, the people would see and know that he was the Messiah without needing to go through the Passion. The devil, as always, was offering the seemingly easy way out–Jesus gets to be the Messiah without dying. However, without the Passion and death, there is no remission of sins. Without the resurrection, Heaven remains sealed shut. Jesus, of course, rejects this offer, and goes through with his work of salvation of souls.
I had never thought of it this way. For one, I hadn’t thought that the people of Jerusalem could have seen Jesus and the devil in dialogue, that they were somehow shielded from sight. Second, the straightforward reading is, well, straightforward and still worth thinking about though that lens. This reading, on the other hand, it quite a bit richer in meaning, and encourages us to embrace fully Jesus’ suffering because without it, we cannot be saved. If Jesus gave Himself fully for our sake, all we can do is give ourselves back fully to God, trusting that he, in His infinite, incomprehensible love, will take care of us, and yes, send His angels to minister to us even, or especially, when things are hard–even if we don’t recognize God’s aid at the time.