Temptation of Jesus, our strength
We always pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. It was Jesus Himself who taught the disciples this beautiful prayer. We may imagine that, while saying these words, Jesus might have recalled His experience of Satan’s temptation in the desert. When He included this petition – “Lead us not into temptation” – our Lord may be thinking and saying to Himself: “I don’t want these disciples of mine go through what I have gone through some time ago”. We can perfectly relate with this: we don’t want our loved ones to experience the negative experiences that we had!
We don’t normally want to be tempted. We think temptations in themselves are sinful. They are not! When we give in to temptations, when we dialogue with them, and when we entertain the – that is when we commit sin. Temptations, however, are great opportunities to show God our fidelity. The Greek term “peirazw” (pi-rad-zo’) means “to make proof of, to attempt, test, tempt”. When we are tempted, we are given an opportunity to “make proof of” how faithful are we to God.
Jesus was tempted immediately after His baptism in the Jordan. Are you not asking why? During His baptism, the Father assured Him that He is the Son of God (“You are my beloved Son”). In St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations, in the first and the third, Satan begins by saying “If you are son of God”. Oftentimes, our temptation consists in putting to test our identity as children of God. How often do we question saying, “If God really loved me, then why am I suffering, why do I have problems and difficulties?”
Curiously, all three Synoptic Gospels – Mark, Matthew and Luke – indicate that Jesus was “driven” or “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness or desert in order to be tested or tempted by the devil. We see here the presence of both the Holy Spirit and the spirit of evil. Is this not telling us that in our lives, we always perceive the tension of two opposing “powers” or tendencies – the good and the evil, the desire to follow God’s will and the inclination to disregard what is pleasing to God? And have you not noticed that whenever you feel you are filled with the presence of God, say, for instance, after the Mass or after receiving the absolution in the confession, temptations are quite evident and strong? Do not be surprised. As St. Teresa of Avila noted, “The devil would never tempt someone who is already on his side”.
Jesus was led into and tempted in the desert or wilderness. Today, many if not all temptations are in the city streets, not in the wilderness. The devil has entered the city. “Desert” or wilderness, therefore, is not just a geographical place. The desert could also be “man’s heart”. In the Biblical context, “desert” could be the place of liberation (Israel escaped from Egypt and went to the desert. The First Reading is a very concise summary of this – read something from it). But “desert” could also be the place of temptation of power (King David gathered his men in the desert before attacking). The desert of man’s heart is the setting both for man’s salvation and for man’s corruption by worldly power. Power can corrupt man’s heart.
Jesus faced three particular temptations – turning stone into bread, seeking power and wealth and tempting God’s power. In order to understand better the meaning of these temptations, we must comprehend that the Evangelist intends to say is that the entire life of Jesus “was in essence a reliving of the history of Israel in the Old Testament”. Jesus’ life is also a journey – an exodus. He is the new Moses that leads Israel – the Church – into the Promise Land: heaven. When Israel was in the desert for 40 years, it was tempted several times and failed. They grumbled and blamed Moses for not having food. They worshiped the golden calf. They challenged God in Meribah and Massa, as they asked Him for water.
Jesus was tempted after fasting for 40 days. (Biblical numbers are often figurative and not a mathematical one, so that 40 years or 40 days could mean “a long duration of time” – since “40 years” represent a generation). But instead of falling like the people of Israel, He showed how to triumph over temptations. Somehow, He pre-enacts what He would do for all humanity on the cross: conquer sin and defeat the enemy!
Jesus’ first temptation was in the area of life’s basic necessities – food – the same area in which Israel failed to trust in God. How often do our basic necessities in life hinder us from trusting more firmly in God’s providence? There are people who don’t attend Mass on Sundays and days of obligation simply because they could not forgo their work. Their basic necessities are pressing! But the more irresistible temptation of “turning stone into bread” is this: the temptation to use power for personal interests. How do we employ our influence and political position for the benefit of other people rather than our own?
The second temptation deals with the temptation to worship the wrong god, and, instead of embracing divine values, we rather imbibe the values of the world. Jesus tells each of us: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone”. St. Paul in the Second Reading echoes this call of the Lord. He said: “Confess with your lips…and believe from the heart”. Faith is the greatest worship of our intellect and will as we submit them to the will of the Father in heaven. Through our Christian faith, may we acquire enough wisdom to choose God over the worldly powers of wealth, fame and power.
Lastly, the third temptation presumes God’s grace. We call it the “sin of presumption”, which, at the bottom, manifests a deceitful humility and a false trust in God. The sin of presumption is the sin of tempting God. “Lord, if only you will just let my son or daughter pass this exam, I will begin to serve you in the parish”.
This season of Lent, may we learn to fight against the insidious snares of the devil. Through the grace of God and our effort to live faithfully the season of Lent, may we effectively say NO to sin and sinful situations and truly say YES to God’s promptings. Let us ask the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother too!