Luke 4:4, 8, 12
(4) Jesus answered him, “It is written…”
(8) Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written…”
(12) Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says…”
First of all, a question: how do you react to temptation? It is easy for us to react in a bad way to temptation. Obviously, the worst way is to give in to temptation. But there is an equally dangerous way that is actually another temptation: we can mistakenly react in anger. The examples of Jesus’ retorts teach us a whole different way of responding.
Before I go into this more, Father Bisbee and I have been thinking about doing a series of homilies during this Lent on the capital sins, and the need for the Sacrament of Confession. We have agreed to talk about the same topic each weekend, each in our own way. While we may present things a little different, we will both be speaking about the same things each week in a series on these capital sins.
So, what is this different way that Jesus teaches us in his retorts? Let me start by saying every capital sin has a corresponding great virtue. What is the great virtue that stands against anger? It is meekness. And this is what Jesus exhibits for us in his retorts! He does not respond in argumentation, or anger. He simply presents the truth by quoting the Bible, specifically from the book of Deuteronomy in all three retorts.
Jesus could have banished Satan from his presence with a single word. But instead, he chooses to teach us how to act without anger. He teaches us to respond with God’s instructions from the Scriptures.
Look, when Eve was challenged by Satan in the garden, she did not simply quote the command of God. The command was do not eat of that fruit, period. But Eve expanded it by saying we are not to eat it, nor are we to touch it. But the second part is not what God said. That is why it is so important for us to know what God commands us to do. The devil knows what God commands us to do, and he knows when we get confused. He takes advantage of that.
If we spend time learning how God calls us to live by studying the Bible, we gain an understanding of how to combat Satan and his dominion and all his temptations. Satan cannot stand up to the truth of God’s revelation. He will try to distort it, as he did in challenging Jesus from the top of the temple, and as he did with Adam and Eve, but he always twists it with untruth. That is why we need to know the truth, and declare it with the simplicity that is free of anger and, rather, walks in a meekness of heart.
Let me make a modern-day example. Recently, I heard a news broadcast on Catholic radio that was talking about people who are being persecuted because of their stand against different kinds of sexual immorality. Because they chose to stand for the truth, there have even been comments, according to the news broadcast, calling for “shooting Christians in the head” for choosing to stand for truth.
These people who are writing in this way may or may not be that serious. But the anonymity of the new social media formats gives people permission to write in such extreme anger. Unfortunately, someone may choose to act on that.
How are we to respond to the attacks against Christianity that are happening in so many parts of our society today? Some people would have us rally and approach a response with equal confrontation. But that is not what Jesus did. It is also important to note that he did not just walk away. He was prepared to respond through holiness, and not anger; with meekness that dismisses anger; with true power, and not with the false assumed power of anger.
Father Bisbee and I chose to start our series on the capital sins by discussing anger. This was mainly because of the reading from the gospel. But I also believe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, because in our current society, anger seems to be just below the surface of almost all problems. I do not think it is the worst of the capital sins, but it is the most prominent, and because of that it needs to be addressed right away.
Its antidote, as I said, is meekness. But this does not mean failing to stand firm for what is truth. Meekness is a virtue of strength, courage, and wisdom. When we know we contain these three things, we can dare to stand against someone who is angry. We may not come away unscathed, but we will come away victorious. If we use the virtue of meekness, and avoid anger.
Lord Jesus, when you were in the temple, you showed a righteous anger for the moneychangers. So we know that anger has its place. But far too often, we get in the way. Our human anger never gives you glory and honor and praise.
Here in the beginning of this season of Lent, help us to learn to stand against the immorality of human anger. Help us to build inside us the virtue of meekness. You revealed this to us in so many ways during your life as you called us to holiness.
Help us, in our day, when there is so much anger in the world around us, to set aside any foolish emotion that would lead us to anger. Instead, teach us meekness. Teach us strength, courage, and wisdom. Teach us to be like you. Amen.