He was in the desert forty days and forty nights: and was tempted by Satan. -Mark i. 13.
1. It was by Christ’s own will that he was exposed to the temptation by the devil, as it was also by his own will that he was exposed to be slain by the limbs of the devil. Had He not so willed, the devil would never have dared to approach him.
The devil is always more disposed to attack those who are alone, because, as is said in Sacred Scripture, If a man shall prevail against one, two shall withstand him easily (Eccles. iv. 12). That is why Christ went out into the desert, as one going out to a battle-ground, that there he might be tempted by the devil. Whereupon St. Ambrose says that Christ went into the desert for the express purpose of provoking the devil. or unless the devil had fought, Christ would never have overcome him for me.
St. Ambrose gives other reasons too. He says that Christ chose the desert as the place to be tempted for a hidden reason, namely that he might free from his exile Adam who, from Paradise, was driven into the desert; and again that he did it for a reason in which there is no mystery, namely to show us that the devil envies those who are tending towards a better life.
2. We say with St. Chrysostom that Christ exposed himself to the temptation because the devil most of all tempts those whom he sees alone. So in the very beginning of things he tempted the woman, when he found her away from her husband. It does not however follow from this that a man ought to throw himself into any occasion of temptation that presents itself.
Occasions of temptation are of two kinds. One kind arises from man’s own action, when, for example, man himself goes near to sin, not avoiding the occasion of sin. That such occasions are to be avoided we know, and Holy Scripture reminds us of it. Stay not in any part of the country round about Sodom (Gen. xix. 17). The second kind of occasion arises from the devil s constant envy of those who are tending to better things, as St. Ambrose says, and this occasion of temptation is not one we must avoid. So, according to St. John Chrysostom, not only Christ was led into the desert by the Holy Ghost, but all the children of God who possess the Holy Ghost are led in like manner. For God’s children are never content to sit down with idle hands, but the Holy Ghost ever urges them to undertake for God some great work. And this, as far as the devil is concerned, is to go into the desert, for in the desert there is none of that wickedness which is the devil’s delight. Every good work is as it were a desert to the eye of the world and of our flesh, for good works are contrary to the desire of the world and of our flesh.
To give the devil such an opportunity of temptation as this is not dangerous, for it is much more the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who is the promoter of every perfect work, that prompts us than the working of the devil who hates them all. (3 41 2.)