This Sunday’s gospel is all about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Temptation – it’s probably our most commonly shared human experience. Usually when we hear the word ‘temptation’ with think of sexual temptations. One of our older priests was telling one time of the difficulty he had studying theology. He told us that every time he heard the word ‘grace’ his mind went automatically to a girl named Grace who lived next door to him when he was a teenager – she used to drive him crazy – the association of ideas never left him. You’ve probably heard the story of the young priest asking the old priest, ‘when do temptations cease?’ and the old priest answers, ‘a half an hour after you’re dead.’
Temptation: its defined as an allurement to something evil under the aspect of good. Remember when Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit – she knew God told Adam and herself they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but Eve saw that ‘it was pleasing to the eye’, it was alluring and so she ate it. And it’s been downhill ever since.
In today’s gospel we have Satan trying to lure Jesus away from His life given task. Jesus spent His forty days in the desert trying to come to grips with the words He heard when He was baptized in the Jordon, “You are My Son, the Beloved, My favor rests on You.” In that time of fast and prayer Jesus came to have a better understanding of His relationship with God, Who He was and the mission to which God called Him.
Satan tries to lure Jesus away from that mission or distract Him from fulfilling that mission by the misuse of power, possessions and domination. Jesus rejects every allurement – every false promise of power, popularity and possessions. Satan tries to lure, entice Jesus away from being Who He is – Satan tries to lure Jesus into disowning Himself, disowning His own integrity.
Someone once referred to ‘the temptation fields of our lives’, something like the minefields of our lives. We have to tread carefully. There is not a day goes by we are tempted to be someone or something we are not. When we were baptized we received in a special way our identity – you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, my favor rests on you. At our baptisms we became sons and daughters of the Father – this is our identity – and we are faithful to it when we try to live and love and forgive as Christ-like men and women.
But everyday we are tempted to be someone, something we are not when we are tempted to anger, resentment, when we are impatient with the weakness of others. Everyday we are tempted to be someone or something we are not when we exclude any person from our lives because of who or what they are – everyday we are tempted to be someone or something we are not when we imagine our happiness and fulfillment will be found in having, possessing. TV advertisements are all about luring us, enticing us to possess more and more – luring us into believing our happiness, our fulfillment will come when we live in this home, drive this car, wear this clothing, keep this diet, use this I Pod – the list could go on and on. Everyday we are tempted to be someone or something we are not when we give in to abusing the clout, the muscle we may have over someone else. Every day we are tempted to be someone, something we are not when we are tempted to ignore or belittle the calls for a change in life style to which the present environmental crisis calls us.
One of the worst temptations that may come our way is when we face our own faults and failing and we tempted by the conviction that God has no time for one such as me, God must be disgusted with me, that God couldn’t love one such me after what I’ve done.
Temptations are part and parcel of our lives – Satan tried unsuccessfully to turn Jesus away from Who He was and His mission in life. Satan will try to lure us away from being whom and what we are; sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of the Christ Who loved us and gave His life for us.
Facing this reality of our lives we can take courage from the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews when he encourages the early Christians with these words that never loose their power and truth: ‘For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.’ Let us be confident then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.