Jesus Beats Satan at His Game

User’s Guide to Sunday, March 5

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by Angels from the Brooklyn Museum
James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by Angels from the Brooklyn Museum (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, March 5, is the First Sunday of Lent (Year A). Mass Readings: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7, Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Today’s readings sum up the battle that mankind has been waging since the beginning of time.

The battle began with Satan, when he objected to the Incarnation. As Revelation 12 recounts it, “war broke out in heaven.” Satan was “thrown down to earth,” where he “went off to wage war” against men.

As our first reading from the Book of Genesis shows, this worked well — at first. The devil had his way with Adam and Eve. But then Jesus came, and the devil’s protest began to fail.

Today’s Gospel reading explains how Jesus fought the devil at his own game.

First, the devil tries tempting Jesus’ flesh.

From the very beginning, Satan objected, above all, to the fact that God was planning to become flesh — to be incarnate. All along, he has been disgusted by the weakness of human beings’ flesh. He easily dazzled Adam and Eve with the apple. He was sure he could do the same with Jesus.

But Jesus defeated the devil precisely through his self-mastery of the flesh. Even though he is very hungry, he refuses the temptation to make bread, quoting Scripture, which says that man lives “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Second, the devil tries tempting Jesus’ pride.

The devil, no doubt angry, tries another temptation. Again, it seems to come from his own story. He was himself “thrown down to earth.” Now, he tempts Jesus to throw himself down to earth from the parapet of the Temple.

He is thinking this is an irresistible offer. Surely Jesus will want to one-up Satan by surviving such a fall? But the devil knows that when Jesus starts a contest with him, then he wins no matter what, because fighting for pride is his stock and trade.

Jesus refuses to tempt God or to get into one-upmanship with the devil.

Third, the devil tries what he always does: He lies.

He tries temping Jesus by a false promise. This worked on Adam and Eve.

Now, the devil tells Jesus he will give him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will only worship him. The devil, who lost heaven, promises the world.

This won’t work on Jesus. To buy the devil’s falsity entails doubting God’s goodness. Jesus won’t do that.

“Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death,” says the second reading. But “as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all.”

Lent is a time to strengthen our own fortitude, humility and faith to be more like Jesus and less like Adam.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.

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