• Education Forums

Bible Study Guide for First Sunday in Lent, Year A

February 26, 2023

[Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7,  Romans 5:12-19,  Matthew 4:1-11,  Psalm 32]

Several years ago the Christian corners of the internet were gleefully passing around a picture of an inspirational “Bible verse of the Day” calendar. Whoever compiled the calendar pulled a verse from the parallel Temptation in the Desert story in Luke, seemingly without understanding the story at all. While social media snickered, the hapless calendar editors ended up making a good point about how easy it can be to get caught up in temptation.

Jesus has been in the desert fasting and praying for forty days after his baptism. He is tired and hungry and in his humanity Jesus is at a particularly vulnerable point when “the tempter” decides to make a move. And it would be one thing if the devil were offering Jesus bad things, but he’s sneakier than that. Instead the devil offers good things, just in the wrong way. It is good for a hungry person to want bread. Jesus was about to embark on three years of preaching, calling everyone to repent and follow him. It would have been a good thing to catch people’s attention so they would recognize that he must be from God and listen to what he had to say. And finally, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, where there is so much suffering and injustice and so much that needs to be set right. If Jesus had dominion over all these kingdoms, he could have done so much good. He could have set so much right. These were all good things to want, but the devil offers them in the wrong way. He offers an easier way out.

It’s easy for us to laugh at that calendar for inadvertently quoting Satan. But in our daily life we are surrounded by voices encouraging us to go down various paths with our lives. In the moment, it can be a lot harder to know who is saying it. Is this the voice of God or is it the Tempter? The Tempter rarely explicitly encourages us to do something wrong or destructive. Instead the Tempter is frequently sneakier and suggests an easier path towards a seemingly good end. In this passage the Devil can even quote Scripture!

Trying to figure out “who said it” in our own lives is generally referred to as “discernment of spirits.” In the western Christian tradition, this is most associated with St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises provide a set of principles to help distinguish which voices ultimately lead to wholeness and joy and which ultimately lead to destruction. Among other things, Ignatius said that we cannot reliably do this alone. Someone else who knows us well can often see our own rationalizations and motivations much more clearly than we see ourselves. When we have trusting relationships with wise companions we can often more easily identify the voice of the Tempter and we can better resist that voice when we are trying to resist it together.

– Kristen Filipic


What are some principles you use to discern where God might be leading when you have big decisions to make?

Can you think of times when you’ve had the option to pursue good ends in the wrong way?

Where do you see the temptation to pursue good ends in the wrong way in our public life?

Have you found community to be helpful in identifying temptation? In resisting it?


At "Educational Forums," enrich your spiritual journey by exploring our resources including videos of lectures, essays by priests, and other pieces about our faith, our church, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century.