“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here… Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Lk: 4:9;12)
If you are a parent, then it is very likely you have had recourse to the phrase, “You are testing my patience”. It is very unlikely though that you ever said, either as a parent or otherwise, “You are testing my humanity”. This is unfortunate because our human nature is tested regularly by our present culture to become less human. We are tested over life in the womb, gender in the body, sex outside of marriage, and the practice of religion in society. We are asked to “choose” about intrinsic values which in nature invite little or no choice. In effect, our humanity is tested by a rebellious power each and every time we are challenged to give up our inherent human freedom for a licentious inhuman freedom.
No doubt God could be heard (if we listen close enough in prayer) saying often to us, “You are testing my patience”. We are most fortunate that God is patient; patient with a purpose. For as St. Peter tells us: “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9). God knows that we will test his patience, and he is forbearing so that we will come to be sorry for our sins – sorry that we have tested his patience.
The devil is another matter altogether. Long ago God’s patience ran out with the devil (Is 14:12) who being of the angelic order has a will most deliberate and fixed. Lucifer was never satisfied just to test God’s patience. He set out to test God’s divinity. We see this in today’s gospel reading where he challenges Jesus to throw himself from the parapet of the Temple so that God the Father might have to act to save Him. He wanted Jesus to test God as God, and thus to tear at the very fabric of divine trust within the Holy Trinity. However, Jesus would not test the Lord God, His beloved Father.
In order to encapsulate this event, we have placed on our bulletin cover for this 1st Sunday in Lent a painting by the French Academist, Felix Joseph Barrias entitled, The Temptation of Christ by the Devil (1860). Barrias was a historical classicist who also painted ancient religious scenes in the classical style. In this oil on canvas Jesus is actually on the mountain top in the moment of being tempted by the devil to take rule over the world (Lk 4:6). Yet we can also surmise here Satan inviting Christ to throw himself downward so that His Father’s angelic host would lift him up and carry him to safety (Lk 4:10-11). Jesus instead points upward indicating that He is always obedient to his Father’s will and that the rule of His kingdom is in heaven.
Barrias paints the devil in all his disfigurement; for when the devil challenged God’s divinity he forfeited the angelic beauty graced to him by the Lord (Gn 3:1). In defying the mastery of God, the devil sought self-mastery. All he gained was self-defacement, as do his followers today.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services