THE TENSION OF TEMPTATION
Rising interest rates, the threat of more taxes and less welfare, the foreign debt, fists-full of dollars for this and that, is a lot of what we’ve been hearing about lately. All this preoccupation with money, understandable as it is, leaves us wondering: ‘Is that all there is? Is it only money which makes the world go round? Whatever happened to human interest stories in the media? Whatever happened to human relationships? Are our only values economic ones?’
Thank God we still have the living memory of Jesus, and the stories of his teaching and example to remind us that there’s a lot more to life than money!
Today we remember how Jesus understood and obeyed God’s greatest commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ ‘With all your heart’ – i.e. with total determination! ‘With all your soul’ – i.e. loving and serving God our whole life long! ‘With all your strength’ – i.e. putting all our personal possessions, qualities and gifts, at God’s disposal and for the service of others!
The love which Jesus had for God and God’s people was total and uncompromising. This does not mean that it was any easier for him than it is for us. As a matter of fact he went through a terrible struggle to choose between God and self. The tension and agony of it all is spelled out for us today in Luke’s dramatic story of the temptations he faced during that time the Holy Spirit led him into the desert. There he spent forty days working out just how he saw himself at this time, and finding out just what God wanted him to do with his life. In the process he came face to face with certain alternatives, alternatives which he came to judge as subtle temptations.
First the tempter suggests to Jesus, who is extremely hungry after his forty-day fast in the desert: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf [of bread].’ In other words, use your power and influence, not for others but for your own satisfaction, comfort and convenience. But even though Jesus is desperate for something to eat, he will not dally with this desire, not even for a moment. Instead he seeks nourishment of a different kind. He thinks of God’s clear message in Scripture: ‘One does not live on bread alone.’
Jesus has survived one kind of temptation. But the idea that comes to him next is even more subtle and more appealing. This is to use his intelligence, his ability to organise, and his personal charm, to gather round him the rich and powerful from every nation, and, eventually, to become a great political leader. This is a temptation to seek world attention and become a political messiah, a temptation to fame and fortune and empire-building. This attraction is the very opposite of what God has said in Scripture about his chosen messiah, the saviour of the world. God clearly means his messiah to be a humble servant, a suffering servant, someone who sacrifices his young life in love. Jesus remembers this, realizes this, and takes it to heart. And so he blitzes the suggestion with yet another clear and definite command of God in Scripture: ‘You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’
The third temptation which comes to Jesus is to go to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem and take a flying leap from there. A stunt like this will surely attract a horde of followers, and prove to Jesus personally whether God cares about him or not. The very thought of it is fascinating. Jesus, however, promptly puts the idea completely out of his mind as he remembers and relishes God’s word: ‘You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Remember, Jesus is feeling very weak, very fragile, and very vulnerable. He has eaten nothing for forty days. And yet his fidelity and love towards God do not waver for a moment. What, then, is his secret? His secret is his reliance on God’s word in the Scriptures. He just keeps nourishing his mind, his heart, his attitudes and his life, by remembering the word of God.
What the three temptations have in common is that they are temptations to selfishness and to taking the soft options of security, power and prestige. We ourselves have often been exposed to temptations to selfishness of one kind or another – in the form of pride, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, etc. Like Jesus we have turned to God for guidance and strength when we’ve been tempted. We have relied especially on the power of those healing sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist to remain faithful.
For better results when we are tempted, we would do well to also do what Jesus did – read the scriptures, reflect on the scriptures, pray the scriptures. This is where the practice of reading, thinking about, and praying the scriptures given in the missal for each day of Lent comes in. Whatever ways we choose to take God’s word to heart, they will all help to make Lent what Lent is meant to be – a time for correcting our faults and raising our minds to God, a time of personal and community renewal, a time of personal and community conversion, a time for coming face-to-face with God in his all-powerful word.