After his baptism Jesus confronts the devil in the desert. It would be a mistake to see this scene as a prelude or preparation for his ministry. This scene is his ministry. It expresses in dramatic terms what the mission of Jesus is about. Jesus came into this world to defeat evil, to oppose all that is against God’s will. The devil in this scene represents the evil of the world which Jesus intends to destroy. This becomes more obvious when we understand that the Greek word in this text (which we usually translate as “temptation”) literally means “test” or “contest.” The devil comes not so much to tempt Jesus as to fight with him. This scene is a struggle, a battle with evil.
Subsequent scenes in Jesus’ ministry continue the contest. When Jesus heals a man who is crippled, he is not simply performing an action of kindness for an unfortunate individual. He is declaring that it is God’s intention to destroy every sickness, to eliminate whatever cripples human life. When Jesus heals a blind man, he is not just ministering to an individual who cannot see. He is declaring God’s intention to eradicate every kind of blindness—the blindness that places greed above service or violence above love, the blindness that chooses coercion over respect and dialogue. These scenes are further engagements in the battle begun when Jesus first faces the devil in the desert.
Our faith stands on the conviction that the cross and resurrection of Jesus has struck the definitive blow against Satan and has inaugurated the ultimate defeat of evil. But that defeat is not yet complete. Even though the devil’s back is broken, he continues to crawl through our world, spreading lies and discord. His final defeat will not occur until Jesus returns on the last day and destroys every evil forever. Until that day, our job is to take up Jesus’ mission, to fight with him against the evil that surrounds us, to undermine the power of evil in our world.
On the last day, we will be called before the Lord to give an accounting of our life. If we stand before him and say, “You know, I said my prayers, and I tried to be as holy a person as I could be,” Jesus might say in reply: “Good. But did you contribute to the destruction of evil? Did you fight at my side against all that is opposed to God’s will? Did you attack injustice, or did you ignore it? Did you oppose racism, or did you tolerate it? Did you reject violence, or did you feed it?” It will be unfortunate for us, if that last day is the first time we realize that this is the work Jesus expects us to undertake.
Being a disciple of Jesus is taking up the battle against evil. It is more than avoiding sin. It is helping to create a new world. Following Christ is more than keeping ourselves pure. It is standing with Christ, facing the devil in the eye, and saying, “Your power stops with me.”
—Fr. George M. Smiga