21 February 2010
1st Sunday of Lent (C) – 21 February 2010
Readings: Dt 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
The Gospel on the First Sunday of Lent tells the story of how Jesus was tempted by Satan. The story also foretells who the Son of Man will become and what His mission will be.
Thus, Jesus will not be a benevolent patron who offers instant gratification or promises overnight solution to hunger, poverty, injustice, and all other problems of humanity. He will not be a powerful tyrant who demands submission from people in order to bring about peace and prosperity. He will not be a populist showbiz ruler who dazzles his subjects with eloquence and miracles.
Instead Jesus will model compassion, gentleness and humility. He will be a faithful prophet who will meet death like all true prophets before and after him. He will be a servant king who eats with sinners and washes His disciples’ feet. He will be a priest who makes Himself an offering so His friends may live.
Heb 4,15 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” As Jesus was tempted in every way, so will it be with us His disciples. As He was strengthened and informed by His triumph over temptations, so will it be with us.
What is the nature of temptation? Temptations are generally deceptions. Satan – whose name means “the deceiver” – wishes to distract us from our mission, confuse us from finding true happiness (or true love), stop us from discovering our real self, and draw us away from the source of life.
The devil does not ask us outright to do evil things, rather he persuades us to see a semblance of good in the things he tempt us with. It’s not about Adam and Eve disobeying God, it’s about their becoming like God. It’s not about Jesus getting distracted from His mission, it’s about Him doing an innocuously simple thing: turning stone to bread. After all he would be turning water into wine in a little while.
The problem with making “small” moral concessions “for a greater good” is that it makes the heart and mind comfortable with falling into little temptations, and paves the way for even bigger transgressions.
It’s the classic frog in a boiling water analogy. Drop a frog in boiling water and it will immediately react to save itself. Drop a frog in normal water, slowly heat it, and the frog won’t know it is being cooked till it is too helpless to save itself. This is how temptation works.
Let us identify some temptations -- which are deceptions really -- that we face today.
1. The temptation to choose the good over the better.
It is so tempting to choose the easy way and fall for the fake sense of contentment brought by blissful mediocrity. Mediocrity in spirit is the one great obstacle to being formed according to the image of God.
2. The temptation not to care.
Because loving makes us risk getting hurt and dreaming exposes us to failure and disappointment, and so apathy and simply living in the moment (forget about tomorrow!) seem to be the way to go. Then again, there is no other way to happiness but to love truthfully. You cannot truly love unless you are willing to take the risk of getting hurt.
3. The temptation to exercise power without accountability.
History and literature is replete with lessons on how unbridled power corrupts the best of intentions. A modern management dictum says: “Systems of accountability are in place to keep honest people remain honest.” It is a good rule to keep for those of us entrusted with responsibilities.
4. The temptation to equate happiness with absolute freedom.
Many people are fixated with an idea of freedom as being able to do what I want when I want to. They link their happiness to the achievement of this ideal, and resent any authority – government, religion, even God – who sets limits on what they can and cannot do. Sadly, they will only be disappointed. There is no absolute freedom in the first place. It is part of our nature to be limited, weak and prone to overstep boundaries especially when there are no clear markers. Ironically, there is a sense of liberation in accepting our limits. After all, it is our weak and limited nature that God assumed in order to save us.
5. The temptation to carve God in our own image.
Today the cult of the self has grown even stronger. Industries have been built to satisfy every imaginable vanity and desires of the flesh. The idea of God is accepted/tolerated for as long as it promotes the well-being of the self. There are those who think they can be simply “spiritual” or “saved” without belonging to the community of believers. There are those who think they can be moral while choosing only the precepts that are convenient to them. They carve an idol according to their own image and call him God.
6. The temptation to rely solely on our own strength.
This is the devil’s favorite. By perpetuating a culture that glorifies the self-made, self-sufficient person, we are lulled into assuming we can combat temptation by ourselves, or deal with our addictions our way, or change for the better by sheer willpower. It is when we think we are strong on our own accord that we are most vulnerable.
The whole season of Lent is a graced time to look inwards, examine our relationship with God, and review our lives in the light of the Gospel. As we reflect upon our inner demons may we also rediscover our graced self, the one redeemed by Christ, the one who longed to live in the life of God.
Heb 2,18 says: “Because (Jesus) himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
As we battle our temptations, we know that we are not alone. We have Christ with us. St. Paul cries out in Phil 4,13: “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me!”