THE TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS
Gen 2:7-9,3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. The readings draw our attention to the foremost task of the Christian, which is overcoming temptation. Temptation is an unavoidable reality of human life. No matter how holy we are, no matter the depth of our spirituality, no matter how intelligent, the tempter is out there, waiting for you! From the very beginning of creation, Satan tempted Adam and Eve and brought them down, as we can read in today’s first reading. In the gospel, also, Satan dares to tempt Jesus, the embodiment of holiness. What a bold fellow, Satan is! Jesus is tempted again and again but he never fails. Jesus proves that he is the Messiah who will lead us to victory over temptation and sin.
- THE DEVIL’S TACTICS
In order to understand the temptations of Jesus, it is good we examine the tactics of the tempter/Satan/devil. From the start of creation, the tempter always poses as a harmless acquaintance. In the account of the Fall in Genesis 3, the serpent appears as a “friend”, but underneath he is like a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Satan appears to be humble and harmless. But he is cunning and shrewd. He is camouflaged; he is a masked viper.
The tempter has charm and eloquence, but he remains deadly and crafty. Sometimes he makes use of HALF-TRUTHS in order to deceive. He uses lofty false promises to lure his victim. For instance, in Genesis 3 (1st Reading), the serpent emphatically tells the woman: “you shall not die”. Satan exploits the ignorance of the woman and makes it a weapon of choice. Like the seasoned logician he is, Satan functions like a chess player who has one goal: to trap his opponent. In the narratives of the temptation of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, the devil even quotes scripture.
Another common tactic of Satan is to use something that one needs dearly. The object of temptation is not what we do not need but what we need most. If you are hungry, he will tempt you to overeat. If you are thirsty, he will tempt you to drink until you have had too much to drink. If you are tired, he will tempt you to laziness and apathy and sometimes even a foul temper. When you find yourself with sexual desires, he will tempt you toward infidelity, lust, pornography, and other sexual sins.
- THE TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS
Jesus is given three tests.
- a) It is interesting that the devil stepped in to tempt Jesus just when the Lord was in need of food, after a long fast. Satan began by taunting Jesus, “if you are the Son of God” (as the voice said at your Baptism), then prove it by turning these stones into bread.” If Jesus had done this, he would have submitted to the authority of the devil. In this way, the sovereignty of God would have been surrendered to the dominion of Satan. But Jesus was smarter than him and reminded him that “one does not live by bread alone.” Here, Jesus reminds himself and declares to Satan that there are things that are much more important than satisfying our physical desires. Jesus knew that the only way to truly satisfy our deepest desires (which are for significance, love, peace, strength and the knowledge of God), is by listening to the Word of God.
Satan knew that Jesus could turn stone into bread since He is God. In fact, there is nothing sinful about eating bread. However, there is sin in letting our appetites rule our life instead of the Lord. This one is a temptation to fulfil God-created desires in a way that excludes Him (God). This first temptation also has to do with how we use our God-given gifts, talents and abilities. The tempter tries to lure Jesus to use His powers for His own personal advancement. There is always a strong temptation in us to use our gifts to make a living for ourselves. But St. Paul tells us that spiritual gifts are given to the individual “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus would later on in his ministry multiply bread to feed others. But he would not do it to feed himself. Quite often, we are tempted to see our talents and abilities, our jobs and professions, NOT AS MEANS TO SERVE OTHERS but simply as a MEANS TO MAKE A LIVING FOR OURSELVES. (as a saying goes: Goat di chop for place whe them tie he; but “snake di bite he too for place whe them tie”)
- b) Next the Devil devises a new scheme to try to win the contest. He tempts Jesus to prove that he is God’s son by jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple and letting the angels catch him as was promised in the Scripture. Here, the devil cleverly misuses scripture to achieve his aim. He quotes Psalm 90/91:11 with accuracy. And Jesus was very effective in his rebuttal. He reminded the devil that “it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Although Jesus fully believes the Word of God, he would not put God to the test.
Here, the devil wants Jesus to do something sensational. He wants Jesus to make miracles. Many Christian, today, are very fanatical when it comes to miracles. They seem to have a penchant for the extraordinary and miraculous. They are very strongly drawn to the sensational that they overlook the many “miracles of faith” that are happening quietly every day. God’s miracles abound all round us, if only we would be open to them!
- c) In the third temptation the devil promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if only Jesus would worship him. What the devil offers in exchange for a compromise is political and worldly power. But Christ slammed the tempter’s enticement. There can never be compromises with evil. This temptation, like the first one, is about submitting to the devil. The promise made here is totally FALSE. This is typical of the devil, the prince of lies (1John 8:44).
Of course, Jesus wants the whole world to acknowledge him, but would he achieve that by worshipping a false god? Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to the goal of ruling the earth. It is as if Satan was saying, “Look Jesus, you don’t have to go through the pain and agony of the cross. You don’t have to face the wrath of God to save mankind. All you have to do is give me your worship”. Can we pursue our goals by any means whatsoever? Does the end justify the means? Jesus says NO. He remains steadfast and faithful to God, rejecting the short-cuts offered by the devil. Finally, Jesus attains an end which is more glorious than that offered by the devil: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
- OCCASIONS OF SIN
One form of temptation which is very common is what we call in Church language “occasion of sin.” An occasion of sin is defined as, “Any person, place or thing which allures a person to sin.” (Definition from A Catholic Dictionary, 1951). Another definition: “Occasions of Sin are external circumstances–whether of things or persons–which either because of their special nature or because of the frailty common to humanity or peculiar to some individual, incite or entice one to sin.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917). As Christians, the Lord God commands us to avoid not only SINS but OCCASIONS OF SIN as well. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Mtt 5:29-30). Here, Jesus points to some of our body parts as “occasions of sin”. It requires lots will power to break away from certain occasions of sin. But if one knows he/she is weak, he/she should avoid the people, places or things that would lead him/her to fall.
Knowing your points of weakness and running away from temptations would entail the following examples:
- If you have trouble with spending, do not wander through shopping centres and market places.
- If you have a problem with lust do not watch programs that incite lust. Do not watch videos that promote immorality. Do not flirt with others! Put your energy into loving your spouse or being faithful before the Lord.
- If you know you cannot resist listening to juicy gossip, then stay away from those places where gossip is common. Avoid those conversations and the people who promote them.
- If your anger leads you to compromise the message of the gospel – remove yourself from things that will provoke angry outbursts (discussions of politics, sports, debates about various social issues). Remind yourself that no issue is worth compromising your faith.
- these Three Temptations ARE VERY REAL in our lives
Jesus’ temptations focus on three different aspects of life: FOOD, PROTECTION, and WEALTH AND POWER.
- a) The first temptation deals with changing stones into bread because Jesus was hungry. The devil does his background work well. He mounts a type of surveillance to find out what the Christian needs badly. He tempts us on that which we desperately need. In search for food, many people are forced to do jobs that they would rather not do. Some women are forced into “prostitution” in order to put food on the table. Similarly, some working class women are equally forced to do the same since this is the pathway to promotion in the workplace. Because of food, people steal, cheat, embezzle, and engage in all sorts of fraudulent activities.
- b) The second temptation is about DEMONIC PROTECTION. The devil wanted to guarantee that Jesus would not break his legs should he fall down from the pinnacle of the temple. He assured him that he would be protected from harm. This is exactly what causes a boom in the businesses of marabout or witch doctor and the “powerful men of god” in many countries, today. Spiritualists are now successful entrepreneurs because people are in search for protection. Charm-makers are, today, considered to have superior powers that can offer protection. In some places, the rich and powerful are rushing to the devil to get special “protection”. The reason why they need this “protection” is because they want to use it to fight and control their opponents. On the other hand, protective charms and “anointing water” are needed in order to evade the evil machinations of their enemies. But they forget that as the Preacher once said, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
- The tempter also lures people to go for ill-gotten WEALTH, and inordinate POWERFUL. For this reason, fraternities, “brotherhoods,” and “sisterhoods” are now becoming the order of the day in many villages, towns and big cities. Membership of a cult is becoming attractive for many people, especially those who long to get-rich-quickly. In fact, many of those who are eager get rich and become powerful are tempted to join a cult and start counting in meaningless millions. This our daily reality, today.
- THE TEMPTER IS NEVER FAR AWAY FROM US
In fact, the tempter is among us. The tempter may be your best friend. It could be anybody, even the preacher carrying the bible, shouting “Halleluia.” It could be your pastor, whom you believe that because he is carrying the bible, ipso facto, such a person is ‘an angel of the Lord.’ Do not forget that even Satan preached to Jesus using the same word of God. In many cities today, there exist fake Catholic priests and fake Pastors who go to people’s homes and ‘perform miracles’ in exchange of money. Some of these pastors have broken many marriages by telling either the husband or the wife that the other wants to kill him/her. The temper can be parents who are always reminding a young person of how his/her age-mates have constructed large apartment buildings and own fleets of cars, yet without asking the question: how did they make their money? The tempter is found in parents who keep pushing their children until they become mobsters. The tempter is also found in the husband who sets up the wife for prostitution so that they can get money from the rich. Satan is that beautiful lady who always dresses in exposed and seductive clothes just to get the attention of men. Such tempters seem to live by the moral principle: “If it brings money, it is good. All that matters is to fill your pockets and be rich!”.
The temptations of the Lord remind us that spiritual warfare is a reality. No one is above temptation. Today’s readings remind us of what the Apostle Paul said: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We must be prepared at all times! St. Luke, the evangelist, says that Jesus resisted the devil because he was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1). Basing our efforts in the help of the Holy Spirit, let us pray that we may fight a good fight during this Lenten season, and rise with Jesus at Easter.