March 1, 2020 – First Sunday of Lent
Click here for the readings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030120.cfm)
What are your experiences of temptations? Sometimes, students are tempted to watch their favorites tv series or play “Mobile Legends” rather than to study. As a result, a temptation to cheat during exams can be possible. Workers or employees are sometimes tempted to steal from their company or employer perhaps because of a need at home. Husbands or wives are also tempted and sometimes succumbed to the temptation to engage in extra-marital relationships perhaps because their relationship with their partner has become cold and sour. This could make a relationship unsatisfiable and emotionally toxic. Others are tempted and succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse or worst to commit suicide to forget or end their overwhelming problems.
There are still many kinds of temptations that we experience in life. Temptation, in the biblical understanding, means a “test” – that is of putting a person to a test. Temptation is also the urge or desire to engage into something that may have a long-term consequence. Thus, it is also inclined to committing sin.
But, we may ask, why would God bring us to the test? The common understanding in the bible is that, God tests His people to put them in situations that would reveal the quality and sincerity of their heart, of their faith and devotion. In trials, God strengthens their patience and hope, matures their faith and assures them of his love.
Though God allows trial and suffering but it is the devil who brings forth the suffering and pain. The devil’s intention is to bring people into hopelessness so that we may give up on God. The devil tries to deceive us to choose what is easy and what is naturally appealing to us, to make short cuts, and more reasons for giving up.
As we celebrate the First Sunday of Lent, our readings today bring us deeper to understand better temptations and our attitudes towards our human desires.
The first reading tells us of the experience of Man and Woman who were tempted by the devil and gave in to the temptation. They knew that it was forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and its punishment was death and separation from God. However, as they were tempted, the serpent engaged the woman into a conversation, which was actually the devil’s trick. In engaging into conversation with the devil, the temptation became more convincing and appealing to human senses. Indeed, the woman saw that the fruit was really good and will make her and the man, wise and to be like God. But then, the decision they made was actually a separation from God because of that desire to become gods themselves.
Thus, as soon as they have realized that they have sinned symbolized by their nakedness, they covered themselves. They felt guilty and so hid their nakedness and of their sins from God. This tells us how sin and guilt destroy our integrity and intimacy with God.
However, let us also see how such temptation was treated by Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was alone in the desert but was filled with the Spirit of God and the devil came to tempt him in three different situations.
The first temptation of the devil was to turn the stone into bread. Jesus by that time was so hungry. He was so weak and so the devil used the weakness of Jesus to tempt him. This temptation was an offer to give in to the basic “human needs.” It was a temptation to respond immediately for one’s “self-satisfaction.” Yet, the Lord understood well that his mission is not to satisfy himself but to do the will of God. Thus, Jesus chose to be hungry so that He too will experience how to be hungry and so will be able to fill hunger not just for food but for love, for affection and for God.
The second temptation was to test the goodness and faithfulness of the Father to Jesus. Jesus was alone in the desert and had surely felt loneliness and abandonment from God. This experience was used by the devil to tempt Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. The devil knew that Jesus had become insecure of what lies ahead. Being human, the future is always uncertain. But then, Jesus did not give in to that temptation to make certain God’s love and faithfulness by testing God to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. He showed the devil that there is no need for testing God’s goodness to be certain of it. He showed that true faith in God is to embrace trust and hope amidst uncertainties and doubts.
The third temptation of the tempter was to worship the devil instead of the Lord God in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world with their riches and power. Jesus has nothing, no material possession, and no influence. The devil knew this and that’s why the devil offered Jesus riches, power and dominance. However, Jesus chose not to worship Satan, not to worship riches and wealth, not power and dominance over others, not control and influence or independence from the Father. Jesus chose to be powerless and vulnerable like the poor, the sick, the dying and oppressed.
All those things that the devil offered were not necessarily bad or evil. To satisfy oneself, to be certain of our life, riches and material possessions are good in themselves.
However, these good things will be used by the devil to allure us and keep us preoccupied, anxious, doubtful, fearful and insecure; thus, keeping us away from the grace of peace that God gives us. That is why, when something preoccupies us and makes us anxious other than serving God, then, it comes from the devil.
That something could be our own hunger for attention, for love and affection, and intimacy, which is always directed for self-gratification. It happens when we immediately choose what is only comfortable and beneficial for ourselves without considering others or even at the expense of others. This will not lead us to God but to ourselves.
That something too can spring up from our desires to be self-sufficient, the desire to exercise power and dominance over others, to become famous and successful. However, when our possessions, gadgets, work, our fame and name, career and ambition preoccupy our heart and mind, then, we allow the devil to work and control our life.
That something too can also be our anxiety to be certain at everything about life. This anxiety can be very strong because when it occupies our mind and heart then we begin to lose our peace of mind and become doubtful of God’s goodness. We will lose our self-confidence because we become fearful in making mistakes and taking risks. The temptation lies in our tendency to be masters of our own lives, to be independent from God. This will not surely bring us closer to God but in fact, we choose to be isolated from the grace of God.
It is indeed a very good feeling to be served, to be self-sufficient, to have anything you need and want in an instant, to be praised, to be famous of what you did and of what you are doing. It is really a good feeling to be able to exercise influence and power over the inferior ones. But, then, all of these when they only serve the ego (self) and feed oneself, then, the self begins to be corrupt and will worship oneself or worship one’s gifts, success and influence, fame and power. We will tend to worship ourselves rather than God, the Giver of everything and the source of all riches.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was actually led by the Spirit of God into the desert to be tempted. Jesus was victorious over the temptations because his chose life and hope not death and chose God rather than the devil.
The message for us today is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into our own deserts, to face our own struggles, difficulties and problems. We are called not to escape from our own difficulties and challenges in life but to face them with courage and faith. Like Jesus, we too are assured that the Holy Spirit is with us. Hopefully, we may discover and reaffirm God’s tremendous love and forgiveness for us in this season of Lent, to renew and transform us. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR