16 January OS 2016 – Afterfeast of Theophany; Holy Martyrs Hermylas and Stratonikos; Holy Martyred Fathers of Sinai and Raithu
The reading from the Gospel today is St. Luke’s account of the Temptation of the Lord, Luke 4: 1-15.
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.
The Lord Jesus came and took our flesh to do for us, as one of us, what we could not do for ourselves, so that a Man could fix what Man had broken. God did not write man off and forget about him after the Fall, nor did He wave a magic wand and make everything all right. He neither abandoned us to our (deserved) fate nor did He give us a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. He came among us as one of us and said, “Alright, now roll up your sleeves and follow Me; we have work to do.” God’s righteous decree of death and hell upon sinful man could not be overturned without overturning the universe, indeed without denying Who God Is, and yet God’s will to save man was unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore God Himself came and
– fulfilled that which we could not fulfill (the Law)
– endured that which we could not endure (the totality of all the sufferings caused by sin, when He took upon Himself the sins and sufferings of all men that ever have, do, and ever will live, suffering in His most pure soul at every moment of His earthly life, and then making a total Holocaust of Himself, body and soul, in His unspeakable and incomprehensible sufferings in the Sacrifice of the Cross)
– and conquered that which we could not conquer (sin, death, the devil, and hell), so that both Justice and Mercy might be fulfilled in Him, the God-Man.
Thus fulfilled were the words of David in the psalm that we read every day at the Ninth Hour, three in the afternoon, the moment of the death of the Lord: “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalm 84:10 LXX).”
In today’s Gospel we see the God-Man in a critical phase of this operation, the point at which the New Adam absolutely rejects Satan’s temptation to sin. Here the Lord reverses the foolish weakness of our First Parents, who listened to the serpent’s lies and thus fell into his clutches. There is not a single moment of hesitation here, not the trace of a nanosecond of thinking over the choice being offered. He does not give the tempter the time of day.
To follow Our Lord as His disciples, we have to do the same thing. The Holy Fathers teach us that temptation and the fall into sin occur in several stages. The first stage is called the prosvoli, “provocation,” in which the thought of the sin comes to us apart from our own will, either from the demons or the outside world or something within ourselves (memory, imagination, involuntary thought processes, bodily sensation, etc.). At this point, there is no sin involved, just the temptation. This is the point at which we have to reject the thought absolutely – not give it the time of day. We have to say “No!” immediately and turn to prayer right away, asking God and our Guardian Angel and God’s saints to come to our aid. They will, and swiftly, if only we turn to them.
By a constant habit of rejecting sinful suggestions, we acquire firmness of mind and heart, and we can “go from strength to strength,” growing in the Holy Spirit into the spiritual stature the Lord desires for us. By doing the opposite and frequently playing with the temptations offered us, sometimes we fall and sometimes we do not, and when we fall, we can get up and repent, but this is not Plan A. Plan A is to not think about sinning for one second. By playing games with this, we cloud our minds and weaken our wills, and life becomes one long and often depressing struggle, an exhausting trail of ups and downs. By God’s grace, we can escape the consequences of our oft-repeated foolishness, but this makes everything a lot tougher, bringing our ultimate victory into doubt by tempting us to lose hope in the Lord’s mercy.
The Fathers’ exhortation to reject the sinful thought immediately, without even thinking about it for one second, is tied to their exhortation to pray always, and especially to say the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.” If the sweetest Name of Jesus Christ is always on our lips and in our minds and hearts, we will hate sin and never compromise with it.
Let us begin each day with the Name of Jesus on our lips, in our minds, and in our hearts, and let us carry this Name – which, though a created human name, was invested with infinite divine power by the Incarnation – with us throughout our waking moments, falling asleep with it on our lips. Surely the Lord, Who has already destroyed Satan’s power over us, will give us every good and perfect spiritual gift, and we will become invincible against the foe that strives against us.
O Lord, Who was baptized for our sake, and Who endured temptation as a man for our sake, glory be to Thee!