We have temptations simply because we are free to make choices in life. But here are some questions: How do I use my freedom? What do I choose? Am I rooted enough in the option of my life to be able to withstand temptations? Lenten season is a 40-day retreat during which, in preparation for Easter, we are called to re-examine our life choices vis-à-vis God and others.
Mount of temptation where Jesus is said to have been tempted in the Judaean desert
Bible readings Genesis 2: 7–9; 3 1–7 Psalms 51: 3–6, 12–14, 17 Romans 5: 12–19 Matthew 4: 1–11
Sunday of temptations
This Sunday’s readings talk about temptations. In fact, every first Sunday of Lent we read the Gospel about the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Actually, those temptations will come at various moments of his life, through disciples, Pharisees or crowds of people. But Jesus will not be shaken for he’s resolved in his decision; his sole aim is to do the will of his Father. Let’s look at these temptations.
But you are son of God…
Jesus is hungry. How’s it possible that a son of God should starve? Just command those stones and you’ll have bread. The temptation is to turn God into a personal servant whom I can command to dance to my tune. Isn’t that familiar?
Just remember the voice that nags you: you call yourself Christian and yet you lack necessities of life? How do you persist calling yourself a child of God when you are abandoned to suffer like anyone else, you lose your dear ones, and things don’t go well with you? Where then is your God? Why isn’t he acting?
Second temptation: why can’t you do a bit of spectacle that will compel everyone into admiring you? Fly from the pinnacle of the temple and when you land unscratched people will be impressed and thus acclaim you as messiah. The urge in us to win human approval can lead us to pushing God into shadows. As example, I think of adverts for worship services, centred on the qualities of the so called man of God. Come because he’s a motivational speaker, his prayers are effective, he heals…. In the end you wonder, where’s God in all that? Of course, he’s there –but in the shadows. We have difficulty leaving room for God like John the Baptist, I must decrease so that he might increase (cf. Jn 3:30).
Thirdly, the devil shows Jesus the beauties and riches of the world; just bow before me and you have it all –pretty alluring, isn’t it? The temptation is to switch loyalty for whatever gain. But Jesus knows what he’s there for, he can’t be swayed. Am I also as rooted in my convictions as Jesus is?
What about that day when I sacrificed the truth and told lies for some profit? Have I forgotten that day I abandoned fidelity to my life commitment or to my spouse because of some offer? Why have I become so lukewarm in my convictions –is it not because of double loyalty?
Temptations as human struggle
We would say the temptations of Jesus in the desert are but struggles that we carry within ourselves. The snake and the demon are conflicts of interests that we carry within us; a clash between our fundamental choice we have made and our inclinations that oppose it.
The malaise that the snake brings to the garden is not the promise of becoming like God, even though it sounds sacrilegious. In fact, it’s God’s intention that human beings share in his life. The trouble is that the snake injects a dose of mistrust in the relationship of human beings towards God. God has forbidden you because he knows the day you will eat of the tree you will be like him. Human beings feel cheated, they become suspicious of God and doubt his goodwill. As they can’t count on God no more –they take things in their own hands. There’s a fissure in the relationship.
It’s the same for couples. When one loses trust in the other the relationship is destined for collapse. You become suspicious of every movement, questioning even a gesture of kindness –why is he doing that for me; is it not just to fool me? Consequently, only what comes from me is credible. What the other says is rubbish. That’s the pride that comes from the snake in me. I now understand better that priest.
A priest was nicked named Fr A-bit-ok because whenever people greeted him: ‘how are you Father?’ his habitual response was ‘a bit ok’. Then one day he explained, saying: ‘despite how well I’m, there’s still a little demon in me’. He acknowledged the conflict he had to deal with inside him. This reminds me of the word of scripture:
“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ep 4:13-14).
Lenten season our desert
The desert is a place of silence, of intimacy, a place of truth where you can’t hide –it’s open, a place of scarcity where in your defencelessness you appreciate the need to lean on someone. You learn to trust. That’s why the desert is a place of purification and renewal. No wonder Hosea proposes an outing to the desert with Gomer, his unfaithful wife. He says something like this: I will seduce her and lead her to the desert and there I will speak to her heart (cf. Hosea 2:14). It’s the same with us, the Lord proposes us a rendezvous in the desert of Lent.
Live Lent with depth
If Lent is my trip to the desert then it demands a lot more than just presenting myself piously for ashes on the forehead or just increasing the frequency of rituals: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. No, Lent is not about what I should perform but a resolute dive into an adventure of renewal.
It’s a time to discern because at every junction I ought to choose which way to go. We know: all that glitters is not gold, yet when confronted with options this wisdom seems to escape us. This is because temptations are like advertised articles veiled in rich, beautiful and inviting wrappings. That’s intended to cheat our vigilance. We go for what shines but only to discover the mess when it’s too late. Is it not the case with the first human beings? Adam and Eve found the idea of the snake enticing yet at the end of it all, far from being like God –they only found themselves naked.
Lent is our grace period to re-examine our choices a little more with depth than just by appearance. We have a choice between trusting God and satisfying our whims. God puts before us life and death (cf. Dt 30:15) and he says, take your pick.
So, start Lent by knowing your demon
It’s important to be aware of that snake or that demon that interferes with trust, and brings discord, in my relationship with God and with others. Perhaps the best way to begin lent is to name that snake, name that demon, and look it in the eye throughout Lenten season. It’s a way of disarming its temptations.
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