GSC – 10th March 2019
The most notable occasion when and where we find Jesus alone is, of course, in the Wilderness of Judea after his baptism in the river Jordan. The story, as was read from today`s gospel passage is from St. Matthew`s Gospel in Chapter 4 and this is paralleled by St. Luke in his gospel also in chapter 4. St. Mark, in his gospel at chapter 1 verses 12 and 13 but Mark gives no more detail than that: `At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.` I will say more about this later in the sermon but I want, also to pick out two other occasions recorded where Jesus was alone: when he was praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane which we find in Mark 14 where he leaves Peter and James and John behind as he goes ahead to a quiet place to pray but yet returns three times to upbraid them for falling asleep no less than three times before he is arrested. This too is paralleled in Matthew 26 and Luke 22 verses 39 to 46 where it is recorded that he returned once to the disciples who had fallen asleep exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping ?” he asked them, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The fourth Gospeller, St. John, who was closest to Our Lord of all the Apostles does not record Jesus praying in Gethsemane but rather records his High Priestly Prayer in all its fullness before Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley with his disciples into an olive grove, known to them and which would seem to be the Garden of Gethsemane which is also the place of his betrayal by Judas Iscariot.
Another place where we find Jesus alone, that is to say without the disciples, is found in St. John`s Gospel chapter 4 where in Samaria at the town of Sychar he meets the woman at Jacob`s Well. The story is recorded in all its fulness.
How did these things which Jesus said and did when He was alone get recorded in the Gospels ? Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the Gospel narratives were not written like some kind of daily journal , but, like most historical narratives, based on memory, research and compilation and that they were put together later. We know for certain that both Matthew and John, the brother of James, were among the Twelve for the three year duration of Our Lord`s active ministry and were eyewitnesses to most of the events which they record. We know too that both Mark and Luke had access to the original eyewitnesses. Mark gleaned his information from St. Peter (See 1 Peter 14 “She who is in Babylon (Rome), chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark” Indeed, Peter treats Mark with such affection that it is quite likely that he led Mark to Jesus and that later, after the Ascension, Mark became St. Peter`s scribe so that what is written in Mark`s Gospel largely came from what he had heard from Peter. Luke, rather differently, seems to have known the Mother of Jesus for where else would he have got the annunciation and birth narratives of the Lord ? What is noteworthy is that how he dedicates his Gospel in Chapter 1 verse 3: “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
We know also from various passages in the Gospels how Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to be alone in prayer up mountains, across the lake, or in remote places to discern the Heavenly Father`s will.
Today`s Gospel reading deals with Our Lord in the Wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, following his baptism by his relative John the Baptist in the River Jordan, to discern the Father`s will before commencing His work of proclaiming the Good News. In the forty days of fating and prayer, symbolized by Holy Church`s Season of Lent, Jesus is tempted by Satan. According to Matthew`s account the first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread to relieve his hunger. Jesus responds, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” Secondly the devil takes Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem and on the parapet of the Temple tells him to throw himself down if he is the Son of God because scripture says that: `He will put you in his angels` charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.` and Jesus responds: `Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.`
Finally, the devil, taking Jesus to a very high mountain, shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour, saying `I will give you all these If you fall at my feet and worship me.` Then Jesus replied, `Be off, Satan! For scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve Him alone.` Then Matthew records that the devil left Jesus and angels appeared and looked after him.
Luke`s account is very similar except that he gets the second and third temptations in reverse order.
You and I will be tempted, even in this holy season of Lent n many and different ways. Let us pray that we shall look to Jesus for grace to resist such temptation and, if we fall, to come to Him in penitence asking for God`s mercy.