You have an enemy who likes to parade around as your friend. He's slick and he's dangerous. He doesn't just wish you pain - he wants you to have pain that never ends, suffering eternal, agony untold. He wants to devour you - inside and out. And he's not some fictitious monster dreamed up from someone's fancy. You can take all the fantasy monsters, roll them into one, and you don't even begin to touch the evil of this enemy of yours.
Appearing as Eve's buddy, the serpent said: "Did God really say?" Appearing totally on her side he said: "You will not surely die. God knows the day eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you'll be like him, knowing good and evil." Slick. He never told her to eat it. He never handed it to her and coaxed her. He just planted the seeds of doubt. Did God really say? And more dangerous: the subtle suggestion that God doesn't really love you and is trying to hold you back. And with hook firmly set, he just waited for the play on the line and then he had them.
Scratch the them, though. Then he had US. For we are in them, in our first parents, and the disease of their doubt, their faithless distrust, the death that they embraced that day in the Garden is the inheritance we receive from them.
Driven from the garden, riddled with conflict between themselves, blaming each other, blaming God, blaming the serpent, anyone would do, and struggling then through the days of their life knowing where they will end up and terrified of it: "Dust you are and to dust you will return." And the real terror of those words when you remember what God said to the serpent: "On your belly you shall go and DUST you shall eat." Eat dust? They're dust. They're serpent food. And we with them. We're headed to the dust from which we first came.
But then comes today's Gospel. Imagine what it was like for our ancient foe when he first met flesh and blood that wouldn't cave in to his insinuations. "If you are the Son of God..." clearly implying that he couldn't be God's beloved, left out there alone in the wilderness, hungry, starving. Three times the tempter assaults him - with hunger, with pride, with riches; three times the tempter is rebuffed; three times the "it is written" rings from the mouth of Him who is Word of God made dust for us. Stung by his defeat, the devil withdraws from Jesus for a time. He'll be back, inviting Him to distrust the Father even as He hangs upon the tree: "If you are the Son of God, save yourself!" he will hear. Different voice, but same mind, same suggestion: "You cannot trust the benevolence of Your Father; He has abandoned you! You cannot trust His Word, His promises to you. See where they land you. Despair and die! You will be my food too!"
But despair is what He does not do. Even from the cross, and certainly not in the wilderness. Instead, trust. Absolute trust that the Father's will is good, that He is beloved of the Father, and that the Father will not abandon Him to death but through His death will bring the children of dust to the immortality that He had planned for them from the beginning. "You will not abandon me to Sheol" the spirit of Christ had prayed through David centuries before. And He wasn't left there either!
But that's getting ahead of today's Gospel. Armed with the Word, though tempted, He did not give in. Unlike Adam and Eve and all of their other children - including us. He stood firm and endured the test to its end. Only the one who doesn't give in to temptation at all comes to knows its full and cumulative weight pressing down. We usually cave long before we ever feel the half of it. But He knew it all.
And so our second reading reminds us that we have a High Priest, Jesus, who truly is the Son of God even as He is the Son of Mary. He has passed through the heavens and appears for us before the Father as our Righteousness. Look to Him, for He knows everything you go through, all the temptations you experience, by which Satan would lead you away, promising you all sorts of fun and good times and then laughing in your face as he devours you for eternity. Look to Jesus, for He has known those temptations through to the bitter end and He has said "no!" to them all for you. Look to Him, for He can sympathize with your every weakness, your every impulse to distrust the Word of God and to rely on yourself. He understands, but He also reveals that it is a dead-end road and that the one who attempts to seduce you to take it wants only to destroy you.
Instead, He calls you to come to Him, to His "throne of grace" where you will find mercy and grace to help you in your time of need. Where is His throne of grace? Behold, the holy altar. Behold, here the High Priest reaches to you the sacrifice which He once offered to His Father as the ransom price of your soul and body. He reaches it to you that He might give you forgiveness, that He might enter you and fill you. Flee to Him and you flee to the One whom no temptation of Satan could fell. Think of that, my friends! In Him and only in Him there is full and free forgiveness for all the times you have fallen, have yielded to the Tempter. In Him and only in Him there is strength for the ongoing battle and, yes, in Him and only in Him there is full, final and lasting victory.
But I skipped over what is perhaps the most important expression of all: "Let us then with confidence draw near." With confidence? Yes. For He does not call you to Himself as slaves who cringe and cower, but as His beloved sisters and brothers whom He calls to Himself to receive the heavenly inheritance He has obtained for our race by sharing our own flesh and blood.
You DO have an enemy. You DO have a malevolent spirit intent on destroying you. He is mightier than you and full of wickedness. Never underestimate him! But stronger than your enemy is your Savior Jesus Christ, who knows you inside and out, who sympathizes with you in your weaknesses and who calls you to His throne of grace to receive help that positiviely dwarfs the power of your enemy. Your Savior's help is like the ocean and the devil's temptations, like a little spark that falls in and is readily extinquished. In yourself, you don't stand a chance against him. But in your Savior, united to Him in trusting the promises of the Father, you will be able to stand firm against the enemy and having done all, to stand.
Here's the throne of grace. What are we waiting for?