16 February 2013

The Nature of Temptations

1st Sunday of Lent (C) – 17 February 2013

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 story on this First Sunday of Lent is the temptation of Jesus by Satan. After His baptism, Jesus went to the desert to fast and pray in order to prepare for pubic ministry. And there Satan tempted Him three times, and three times Satan was rebuffed.

The Temptations of Jesus. A short review of these temptations also reveals how Jesus intends to do His mission to the world.

1. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

By rejecting this seemingly innocuous dare, Jesus tells Satan that man does not live merely to acquire material goods. And in Mt 4,4 the line is added: “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He also sends the message that His mission is not to become a generous patron who offers instant gratification or overnight solutions to hunger, poverty, injustice, and all other problems of humanity.

2. “All these (kingdoms of the world) will be yours, if you worship me.”

By rejecting this more brazen offer, Jesus tells Satan that all the power and glory in the world is not worth it, especially when it means selling your soul to the devil. He also sends the message that He will not be an earthly power, no matter how benevolent, who demands the command of armies or the subjugation of peoples under his rule in order to bring about peace and prosperity.

3. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

By rejecting this rather desperate challenge, Jesus puts Satan in his proper place and reminded him that he is talking to the Son of God Himself – and one “does not put the Lord God to the test”. He also sends the message that He does not intend to be a populist ruler who moves supporters and fans with showbiz 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 turns Himself into the ultimate 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.

The Nature of Temptations. Temptations are basically deceptions. Satan – whose name means “the deceiver” – wishes to distract us from our mission, confuse our idea of true happiness or true love – thus, hinder us from finding it, stop us from discovering our real self, and draw us away from the source of life.

To be effective, a deception has to be clever. Think of the way scammers, say the Budol-Budol Gang, rob their victims blind. The devil does not ask us outright to do evil things – not many of us would be fooled that easily. 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 of the more common deceptions that we face today.

1. The temptation to choose the good over the better.

People faced with moral dilemmas most often don’t face a choice of good versus evil, but between or among a variety of goods. When we choose the lesser good we fall into the trap of choosing the easier way over the right way. 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 risk loving again.

Everybody wants to love and be loved. Who are those who find it hard to love? Those who have loved and been hurt, those who have dreamed and failed. Because loving again opens them to the risk getting hurt again, and dreaming once more exposes them to failure and disappointment yet again, some people chose instead to simply stop loving. Apathy and simply living in the moment (forget about tomorrow!) seem to be the easier ways to go. Then again, there is no other path 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 eschew balance in our lives.

Sometimes success blinds us and makes us only see the good that we do, and not the things we need to avoid doing. 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.”

Sometimes too our devotion to duty or dedication to a goal makes us so focused as to be insensitive to the plight of persons and values that get in the way. Remember the Gospel parable of the sheep and the goats: in the end, God will not judge us by how much we have achieved, but by how much we have loved.

4. The temptation to equate happiness with having lots of choices.

It is not so much the availability of choices that leads to true happiness, it is rather the freedom to make a commitment. Choosing from a selection of options is just the first step. Committing to something or someone is the real work, for by doing so we immerse ourselves in the full reality of freedom.

Yet there is something that makes many of us cringe at the mere thought of making a commitment: the fear of being limited. Perhaps this springs from our fixation with an idea of freedom as being able to do what we want when we want to. Many 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 in sight. 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 and 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. To the many trials that come his way, St. Paul defiantly cries out in Phil 4,13: “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me!”

No comments:

Post a Comment