There is a story told of a young priest asking a senior priest, ‘when do temptations cease?’ The senior priest answered, ‘a half an hour after you’re dead.’
Today’s scripture reading are all about temptations. A temptation is an allurement to something wrong under the aspect of it being good. In giving in to a temptation we are deluding ourselves into thinking that what we are about to do or say is really a good thing when in truth it is the wrong thing. We heard in our first reading that the fruit of the tree of good and evil was a delight to the eye, it was desired to make one wise and the really alluring part of this whole drama was that if one ate this fruit one would be like God, knowing good and evil. Surrounded by so many blessings the woman wanted more. She was not satisfied with being herself, who she was, she wanted to be someone else – she wanted to be like God.
So often our unhappiness comes when we fail to recognize how blessed we are, when we fail to appreciate our own selves and we try to be who we are not. We allow ourselves to be enticed into trying to be who we are not in the hope that this will fulfill us, bring us happiness. And it doesn’t work. We end up betraying ourselves, our own integrity. We allow ourselves to be enticed into relationships that are really not life giving but become the source of guilt and unhappiness. Someone described temptations as ‘truthy lies’.
After His baptism in the Jordan by His cousin John the Baptist, Jesus went into a time of prayer and fasting to sort out the full meaning of the words ‘this is my son the beloved with whom I am well pleased.’ In this self searching Jesus comes to realize that what His Father calls Him to be and do will not be easy. It will cost Him. He is to bear witness to the truth and justice of God to powerful people who will not want to hear what He has to say. He is to bear witness to the truth that the people need to change their ways of living life, change their external religious observances into something more of the spirit. He is to bear witness to the truth of the evil of political and religious oppression.
From the very beginning Jesus wondered, could His Father’s will be done in another way, a less demanding, less painful way. Even the night before He was to die Jesus prayed, ‘if it’s possible let this chalice pass me by.’ Jesus is tempted; He is enticed by the possibility of doing His Father’s will differently. Maybe He would change stones into bread and feed the hungry of the land. This would certainly bring the people back to God. Maybe He could bring the people back to God by doing spectacular things, do amazing feats that would mesmerize the people. This could be a way of bringing people to the Father. Or power, maybe He could have such a power, even political power among the people that He could overpower the powers that be. This would certainly attract the people and then He could lead them to God.
Jesus saw through these allurements. They called Him to be someone He was not. They would lure Him away from being the suffering servant of God Who would be faithful to His Father’s will to preach the good news, the challenging news, the demanding news of God’s love and mercy. Jesus rejected these enticing ideas. He saw through their emptiness. He would be what He was meant to be, God’s faithful Son. He would do what He was called to do, call the people to change their lives and return to God no matter the cost.
Temptation is part of all our lives. Every day we are conditioned to be consumers. We are enticed into believing our lives are not fulfilled if we don’t have the latest gadget, or wear the latest fashion, dine at a trendy restaurant, drive the latest automobile, use the latest ipod or blackberry. We are conditioned every day through the TV programs we watch to believe that uncommitted relationships are perfectly normal and can be easily trashed. No commitment means no one gets hurt. In work and social situations we can be tempted to look the other way, not get involved, and keep our thoughts to ourselves, when we see good people hurt by injustice or unfairness.
I read this little thought just recently, “we sit at our desks working hard, worrying about meetings and deadlines, wondering if we can live up to our own expectations and those of others. Right now we are important, everyone needs us.” I see this as the usual temptation to a god complex. It’s a temptation that has brought on many a heart attack. In so many ways, some subtle, some blatant, we will be tempted into relationships, lifestyles, attitudes, thoughts and actions that lure us away from who we really are, that diminish our true selves – under the guise of being good. It’s our reality.
Our second reading is a link between the tragedy of Eden and the faithfulness of the desert. Paul sees Jesus as the new Adam and His obedience, his faithfulness to the Father stands in sharp contrast to the disobedience of the first Adam. Where sin abounded grace did more abound. We are told Christ was tempted in all things, but did not sin. This is our hope and strength. We are not alone; Christ is with us in all our struggles. As we continue this Mass, we pray for ourselves and for each other that no matter what the allurement of the day or the hour, by God’s grace we find the strength to be faithful to who we are and what we are, brothers and sisters of the Christ Who was obedience, faithful, even unto death, even death on the cross.