Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stoneMatthew 4:5-6
The first thing we must notice is that the devil has just quoted the beginning of Psalm 90:11. His sly temptation of the appetites has failed; he now moves onto the use of scripture. The devil is, as Pope Benedict XVI writes, “A Bible expert who can quote the Psalm exactly.” He continues, “The whole conversation of the second temptation takes the form of a dispute between two Bible scholars” (Ibid.). What is Pope Benedict saying here? Simply that the devil has turned theologian. Although the devil is using the Holy Scriptures in his argument, it is important to note that he is twisting this Psalm to his own advantage. The passage, and the Psalms nearest to it, speak of the divine protection God will give to the just man. The devil uses it instead as a test, adding, “If thou be the Son of God…” Here is Our Lord’s reply:
Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.Matthew 4:7
How can we be confused by a misinterpretation of scripture? This could happen by giving credence to a twisted view of God’s Word. Sometimes this occurs when interpreting the commandment to love. Some are perhaps misled when they consider what it means to love. Should we love on our own terms, or God’s? If we love on our terms, we might overemphasize pleasing others, being nice, or going along with the group for the sake of unity or so as to not create hard feelings. But loving on God’s terms, first and foremost, is to heed his commandments. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:21). To love on our own terms is to make God into who we want him to be. As Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth puts it,
If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in One who loves you. Yet this trust, which we cultivate on the authority of Scripture and at the invitation of the risen Lord is something quite different from the reckless defiance of God that would make God our servant.Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth
Rather than subordinating God to us, we must love on His terms, following His will and loving as He loves.
The commandment to love is difficult. Not only is it hard to be charitable, but to love as God loves is to die to oneself. We forget that perfect love, perfect charity, is agape, the giving of ourselves to someone else. This is not the act of following one’s own will in the name of love. Agape is the love that Christ has for each one of us, the love that led to his laying down His life for us on the cross. We violate and refuse this love when we love on our own terms and make God into who we want Him to be. It appears this is what the devil tempted Christ with: the reckless testing of God that would make God our servant.
In Christ’s second temptation in the desert, we realize that the devil can attack even with God’s own words. He may, as our example has shown us, slip into our minds the commandment to love, prodding us to ‘love’ by conforming to the social norm or being overly tolerant of another’s actions. In the case of Christ, the devil tempts Him to submit God to a test. Our Lord stops the devil in his tracks, using the words of Deuteronomy 6:16 as a counter to the tempter’s twisted use of scripture. Not surprisingly, Christ knew the Bible perfectly as well. Unless we study the scriptures or have a full understanding of what the Church actually teaches, we can easily be defeated by this temptation, especially in this day and age. The devil would like nothing better than to see yet another split in the Church, another case of blatant disobedience to the Church’s authority, or a rejection of an element of Church teaching. To combat this, we must humble ourselves and depend entirely upon God’s Word. But, for fear that we might misinterpret the Truth, we must hold fast to the teaching of Christ’s Church on earth, the one and only infallible interpreter.
– St. Louis de Montfort, Pray for us!
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. 2007. Translated by Adrian J. Walker, Ignatius Press, 2008.