When we think of Christ’s temptations by the devil in the desert, we tend not to realize that these are often the devil’s three principle methods of attack. The tempting of Christ with bread symbolizes any temptation of the flesh or appetites we might have. The reason why ‘appetites’ is used to describe our desires is that hunger is the most basic of all our wants. Although the devil’s sly seduction appears to be innocent at first, he gradually builds upon our habits until we fall. How are we to combat this, knowing the devil “as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour?” (Peter 5:8). Let’s look at the first temptation of Jesus for our answer.
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert, for the space of forty days; and was tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. And the devil said to him: If thou be the Son of God, say to this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:1-3).
Jesus had fasted for forty continuous days. He was weak and hungry; if there ever was a time that his body was demanding that he eat, it was now. The devil had waited and watched the whole time, withholding his temptation until the perfect moment. The devil waits until we are at our weakest before tempting us with the wants and the desires of the flesh. He often, as with Christ, tempts us with something that may not even be a sin. If we are swayed by this, he immediately follows up with something else, continually building upon our self-indulgence until we fall first into habit, then into sin. This is the devil’s first attack: using our appetites to his advantage.
“And Jesus answered him: It is written, that Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).
Christ’s response to the devil holds the antidote to this attack. Here is the answer. Jesus’ hunger and the temptation of the bread symbolizes our desires and the temptations of our appetites. The devil is perfectly happy to lead us into habitual indulgences, which in themselves are not sinful but weaken our will, before tempting us to fall into sin. As a result of this, we must be vigilant and must willingly mortify our appetites and desires, following Christ’s answer to the smallest detail. We should not seek to fulfil our every want (living by bread alone), but we should instead exercise detachment, depending upon God (the Word) for our strength and desiring ultimate happiness with him.
“The Lord ruleth me, and I shall want nothing”, says King David in Psalm 22. In order to combat this first facet of the devil’s temptations, we must pull away from indulging in our appetites, mortify ourselves, and make an unflinching stand when tempted—even to the point of voluntarily giving up innocent luxuries. Lent is a perfect time to do this. Start now. This way, through the grace of God, we also can combat the most subtle of the devil’s attacks, even when we are at our weakest, as Christ did when tempted to turn a stone into bread.
– St. Louis de Montfort, Pray for us!