Temptation

In the Gospel reading for this first Sunday in Lent, Jesus faces temptation in the desert at the hands of the devil. According to Wikipedia, “temptation is the desire to perform an action that one may enjoy immediately or in the short term but will probably later regret for various reasons.” In theological language, temptation is our inclination to sin, to violate our relationship with God, other human beings, the rest of God’s creation, and ourselves. What a great time for us to read about Jesus facing and resisting temptation, as we begin Lent, a season of conversion and a time of renewing our baptismal commitments. When we renew our baptismal vows, we begin with these three questions, “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?”

Of course, most of us would be tempted to answer “yes” to these three questions, without giving it too much thought. I am not perfect, but I do try to lead a fairly good life, as I am sure most of you do, too. But if we really look at this week’s gospel story, we might not be so confident in our answers and we might find directions for our spiritual work for this season of Lent.

First, it is interesting to look at the timing of Jesus’ temptation. He has been fasting in the desert for forty days. He is hungry, tired, dirty, and likely more susceptible to temptation than he otherwise would be. Think about this in relation to your own life:

  • When do you make poor decisions? When are you the most likely to be tempted?
  • What can you do this Lent to take care of your basic bodily needs for healthy food and a sustaining amount of rest? What can you do this Lent to make sure you are putting yourself in situations in which temptation is less likely to occur?
Photo:   Jos van Wunnik (Flickr Creative Commons)

Photo: Jos van Wunnik (Flickr Creative Commons)

Second, it is helpful to examine the three temptations themselves. The first temptation the devil puts to Jesus is to turn stone into bread. The devil is counting on Jesus using his own power to meet his need for food after his forty day fast. In a sense, it is not that unreasonable of a request from the devil, that Jesus should meet his bodily need. It is not as if the devil asks Jesus to turn the stone into a four-course meal completely with a banana split for desert. The devil simply asks him to meet a basic need, a need for nourishment, a need that Jesus will meet for other people later in his ministry when he feeds the multitude with loaves and fishes. Yet Jesus’ response is that “Not on bread alone shall a person live.” What ultimately sustains us is not food but God. (Now this has to be stated carefully, especially in conjunction with this week’s Spirit story about Charlotte’s struggle with anorexia. God wants all of God’s children to take care of their bodies, which means properly nourishing them with food and properly resting them. Our bodies are temples of God, made to be treated with the utmost respect and care.) Think about this in relation to your own life:

  • In what do you put your trust? Do you put your trust in God? Or do you put your trust mostly in a person or a thing or a habit?
  • To what do you turn for sustenance that cannot ultimately sustain you (television, video games, sweets, shopping, etc.)?
  • What can you do this Lent to make sure that you are building up your sustaining relationship with God?

For the second temptation, the devil takes Jesus up high and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, telling Jesus that Jesus can have all the kingdoms and their glory if Jesus will worship the devil. To this Jesus replies, “You shall worship the Holy One, your God; God alone shall you serve.” Jesus is asked to make one seemingly little compromise (I can hear the devil trying to minimize his request, “Just worship me for a second; you don’t really even need to mean it!”) in exchange for more earthly power than anyone could imagine. Think about this in relation to your own life:

  • When have you made seemingly little compromises for the sake of power, status, popularity, or rewards? When have you not been who God made you to be in order to gain acceptance?
  • What in your life has taken on the status of an idol, that is, a little god that you invest with more power and worth than it actually has? What leads you to value this idol so highly? Does this idol interfere with your worship of God?
  • What can you do this Lent to live as your authentic self and to break the idols that are blocking your relationship with God?
Photo:  y-a-n

Photo: y-a-n

Finally, in the third temptation, the devil leads Jesus to a high place on the temple in Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself down, allowing God to catch him lest he fall. Jesus reply is to once again quote scripture: “You shall not put the Holy One, your God, to the test.” Again, what the devil asks of Jesus does not seem wholly unreasonable. Surely God would rescue God’s only Son! Yet Jesus’ reply indicates something about the sort of relationship one is to have with God: it is a relationship of trust, not a relationship of testing. Think about this in relation to your own life:

  • Are there people in your life that you test to see if they are properly loving or loyal to you? What can you do this Lent to center your relationship on trust and not tests?
  • When you pray to God, what do you pray? Do your prayers more resemble tests for God or do they indicate your trust in God?

Let us all pray that we can use this six weeks of Lent as a time for conversion, so that in the Easter celebration, when we renew our baptismal vows, we can more heartily proclaim that yes, we do reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.

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