The Gospel this morning treats us to a rather unusual sight. Our Lord, God Himself, is lead into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. The "Spirit" who leads Him there appears to be the Holy Ghost -- in the Latin text, which capitalizees less frequently than English, the "S" is capitalized -- but more importantly, it makes no sense to think of the created fallen angel as having power over his Creator. So Our Lord must have gone there willingly. He fasted for forty days -- a number that we find in the Old Testament -- and He was hungry. The Devil then tempts Him, first with His hunger, and when that fails, the Devil appeals to His pride, and finally tempts Him with the riches of the world.
It is interesting to not, first of all, that the Devil doesn't really offer Him anything that He doesn't already possess -- certainly, none of these things belonged to the Devil -- they had all been created by God. The temptation with the loaves of bread is rather pathetic, actually, as though our Lord needed the Devil's permission to turn stones into bread if He had been of a mind to do so. We ought to keep this firmly in mind, ourselves -- the Devil never gives us anything in return for our sins. His temptations are always illusory. He always advances the good things that have been created by God, and proposes that we would be even better off if we were to use those good things as the Devil sees fit, rather than as God sees fit. We always lose when we take him up on his offer. He is, in a sense, playing with stolen goods, which will ultimately be returned to their rightful owner, leaving us with nothing if we play with him.
We see, also, that the Devil can quote Scripture. No doubt he knows it very well. And no doubt with his keen intellect, he can play the "snippet game" very well. That is to say that he and those who are mislead by him can prove virtually anything and support virtually any position if they narrow their arguments down to just a few words out of the thousands upon thousands found in the Bible -- a few words taken in whatever context pleases them, with no regard to what the entirety of Sacred Scripture and Tradition say. The Devil can quote Scripture, so don't be taken in by anyone who tries to prove any position of Faith or Morals with half a dozen five to twelve word quotations, accompanied by chapter and verse numbers.
Of particular interest in this Gospel, though, is that in his attempt at temptation the Devil makes a serious mistake. He quotes a "snippet" of Scripture -- a little piece of Psalm 90 -- trying to appeal to our Lord's (non-existent) vanity -- telling Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem -- the idea being that our Lord will be able to "show off" by having a legion of angels catch Him before He dashes so much as His foot against a stone. I say that this is a mistake on the Devil's part for two reasons:
First because the Devil helps us to understand the Psalm as messianic -- he helps us to see that the Psalmist, through the power of God, was looking into the future and could see the day when God would send His Son into the world, and protect Him from harm.
But more to the point, the Devil made a mistake because this beautiful piece from the Old Testament shows how God protects all of His faithful sons and daughters -- ultimately filling them "with length of days and showing them His salvation." The metaphor is a little bit worldly, but the physical dangers and combat can (and should) be understood as the struggle between good and evil -- between the faithful soul and the Devil.
Most of the Psalm is used in today's Mass as the Gradual Chant, between the Epistle and the Gospel. The Roman Missal uses a very old version of the text, from what is called the "Itala vetus" which predates Saint Jerome's translation of the Bible. If you read it in your hand missal you may have read something more modern -- I hope you will find the older version as compelling as I do -- and I hope that you will benefit by the Devil's mistake, and spend this Lent thoroughly absorbed in the wonder of God's protection and the offer of His salvation.
The Psalm begins with King David praising God. He is recounting for all of God's people the mercies he himself has enjoyed from the Lord, and promising the like for all those who give themselves over to "dwell in the aid of the most High":
Tract: Psalm xc: 1 -7, 11-16
He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High, shall abide in the protection of the God of Heaven.
He shall say to the Lord, "Thou art my protector and my refuge;
My God, in Him will I trust.
For He has delivered me from the snare of the hunters, and from the accusing word."
The first few verses seem to be David's personal testimony -- now he begins to promise and to enuumerate the benefits to those who "dwell with the most High:"
And, finally, God answers in His own name, confirming the promises made by the Psalmist on His behalf:
Again, I would submit to you that the Devil has made a very serious mistake -- particularly at this time of Lent. The Devil has allowed God to take his evil attempt at quoting Scripture and turn it into something positive for us -- anther piece of encouragement to make a good Lent, filled with the presence of God -- for now we have all heard God's promise