A very overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route on the way to the office precisely in order to avoid passing his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated, calorie-loaded coffee cake. For this he was roundly chided by his colleagues, but he only smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, What could I do? This is a very special cake. What happened is that, by force of habit, I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning, and there in the window were trays full of the most scrumptious goodies. Well, I felt this was no accident that I happened to pass by this way, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you really want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let me find a parking space right in front of the bakery.’ And sure enough, on the ninth time around the block, there it was!’
Temptations do come to all of us, in various disguises of course. They are part and parcel of our life. A temptation is a trick, a deception, a lie.
It conceals the truth and presents Falsehood to us as the Truth. A temptation may even offer us something good but entices us to use it in a false and selfish way.
In Genesis, we hear about our first parents, Adam and Eve, being tempted by Satan in the garden of Eden, and in the Gospel Reading, we hear about Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. These two temptation stories are sophisticated ones, and are not meant to be taken either literally or historically. They are symbolic and are directed essentially about making choices—either in favor of God or against Him.
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, compares these two temptation events, and points out how their consequences affect our lives today.
In the story of Adam and Eve we hear about the perfect world God created for humans and how through a temptation, Adam established a pattern that led to sin and death. It is a drama woven of pretense and cover-up.
Adam and Eve were the first to bite on a big lie: the denial that we creatures of God
and dependent on God. Enter the Serpent, that cunning beast, that lord of lies, who taunted their obedience and reliance on God— the attraction of having no limits: To be God. To be self-sufficient, self-made.
The pretense was attractive and desirable. The trick looked so wise.
The devil, being the master of deceit, knows human psychology only too well. His first task was to get the attention of Eve. Thus his question: Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”
Eve right away saw the half-truth in the question so she corrected him saying that they could eat of the fruit of all the trees except that of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad. And on this last, God’s command was clear: You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.
We see here how Eve, by arguing with the devil, gets hooked.
The devil took immediate advantage of his gain.
He told Eve they would not die; instead, Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.
Her curiosity aroused, Eve saw that the fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
Eve then took a fruit and ate it. She gave one to her husband Adam who likewise ate it.
And all of a sudden both of them realized that they were naked. Ashamed of their nakedness in front of each other, they covered parts of themselves, and afraid of God, they went into hiding.
They had Fallen and Sin had entered the World!
Sin brings about dislocation in our relationships.
Instead of openness, hiding or covering–up has become our way of relating to God and to each other.
And we justify our weaknesses and sins with all kinds of Rationalizations.
This is the story of our life ever since.
The Gospel Reading of the 1st Sunday of Lent always features the temptations of Jesus
in the desert. Today we have St. Matthew’s account of the temptations of Jesus, and they are paralleled with the temptations of Adam and Eve!
After his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he prayed and fasted for forty days and nights, and afterward he was tested there. The testing is done not by God but by the Evil One, the Tempter.
It is pictured as taking place in a barren region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It is worth noting that we may not be dealing here with a strictly historical happening. This passage takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This was not the report of a single incident, but a commentary on the entire course of Jesus’ ministry.
Time and again Jesus must have been tempted to authenticate his mission by a display of miraculous power or to undertake the role of a political Messiah. So, rather than just seeing them
as three consecutive temptations happening almost simultaneously at a particular moment, we should perhaps see them as three key areas where Jesus was tempted to compromise his whole mission during his public life.
They were not just passing temptations of the moment, but temptations with which
he was beset all through his public life. They came as inner reflections about his baptismal experience and how to do what he now perceived his divine mission to be.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was tempted three times and each of the three temptations touches on his identity as the Son of God. The Tempter begins, If you are the Son of God, …then he says, do what I ask you to do. Jesus refuses to fall into the trap of the devil. Jesus was like us in all things but sin and was tempted in every way that we are.
The First Temptation of Jesus is of appetite (pleasure/gluttony/materialism)—to change stones into bread. It demanded that miraculous power be used to provide for basic material needs.
The tempter picks up the fact that Jesus was hungry, that he had not eaten for forty days. The tempter says that if he is truly the Son of God, he could command the stones to become bread. To this Jesus responds through the words of Scripture that a person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Here Jesus is indicating that his mission was not fulfilled by providing for basic needs but rather by proclaiming the Word that is life.
The Second Temptation is of ambition— power/fame/boasting—to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. It demanded that Divine power be used to produce a spectacular ‘sign’ that would compel anyone to believe. In this temptation, the devil offers him a chance to prove his power as God’s Son by throwing himself down from the parapet of the temple. Jesus responds with a passage from Scripture, from the Book of Deuteronomy that says that it is also written not to put the Lord God to the test. Jesus responds to Satan saying, he will not test God’s word by doing something foolish or unnecessary. He will trust his Father in the direction of his mission.
The Third Temptation is of arrogance—pride/vanity/idolatry—to worship the devil who can give power and wealth. In this final temptation, Jesus is set by the devil on a very high mountain and offered the kingdoms of the world in return for worshiping him. Jesus absolutely rejects the offer and tells the devil to go away. He once again quotes the Book of Deuteronomy which says that every creature has to worship the Lord God, and serve Him alone and no one else. It is the cardinal truth of the Scripture taken from the Ten Commandments to worship God alone and no other gods. Jesus is not swayed. He has won, over the subtle temptation of the devil.
All the three temptations can be seen as a suggestion by the devil to be unfaithful to the call and mission of the Father. He rejects these possibilities and shows that his purpose is different.
These three temptations are also our temptations.
The devil invites us to turn towards self. Jesus invites us to turn towards God.
In reality all of the temptations can be summed up as temptations to the three A’s—Appetite, Ambition & Arrogance, or the three P’s—Pleasure, Power and Pride.
It is also important to realize that all temptations come to us under the guise of some kind of goodness. No sane person chooses the purely evil unless some positive benefit is seen to come from it.
In each of the three tests today, Jesus is being led on to do something which would seem to enhance his mission as Lord and Savior.
We all face temptations. We humans tend to give in to temptation. When we are tempted, we shouldn’t trust in our own abilities or strength. Instead we should trust Jesus and his strength.
Where humanity fails, Jesus prevails.
We should follow his lead when we face temptations and earnestly be reminded: The Lord, you God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve!