“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2)*_
Last Sunday, Jesus told us to aim for perfection by loving our enemies, showing kindness to those who beg from us, and forgiving those who hurt us saying that these are characteristics that would make us resemble God. Today, being the first Sunday of Lent, the church invites us to journey with Jesus Christ once again in his fasting and prayer for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.
For us to attain that perfection that Jesus desires of us, lent is a good time to train our minds and bodies, a time to recalibrate our spiritual alarm system, a time to reset ourselves completely, a time to examine how far we have gone away from the expectation of Christ and retrace our steps.
Today, our readings, especially our Gospel passage remind us that sin does not happen in a vacuum; there is usually a period of temptation, a period we find ourselves negotiating with the devil. Before every sin, we are given a chance to either defeat the devil or embrace his suggestion. Facing temptations (negotiating with the devil) is not something evil, it is agreeing to his suggestion that is bad.
Despite being God, Jesus was not spared of the moment of temptation. Jesus went through it himself to know what it feels like to be under that aura of hearing the devil using his sweet voice to make suggestions. Jesus needed to go through it and come out victorious to show us: _1. It is possible to be human and still say no of the devil. 2. How to overcome these never-ending prompts of the devil._ Let us now consider our lessons for today:
*1. Why do we Face Temptations?*
Matthew tells us that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” As long we desire to serve God, temptations will always come our way. The higher we go in our Christian walk, the bigger and tougher the temptations we shall face. The devil knows it when we begin to take God seriously and he has his way of trying to keep us where we are.
Jesus was about to begin his public ministry, to pull souls from the devil’s captivity, it was too much of a threat to the devil and so he had to try his possible best to make Jesus change his mind. The devil was basically trying to make Jesus achieve glory by a shortcut; to jump from baptism straight to ascension, without having to go through the process of preaching, touching the lives of people, and especially the arrest, the trial, and the cross. (The devil knew that he would be finally defeated on that cross and he tried to make Jesus jump over it). This is why when Peter suggested to Jesus that the cross would never happen, Jesus didn’t waste time using the same words he used during the temptation: “Get behind me, Satan.”
Temptations are necessary because they help us know who and what we really are. Don’t say you are not a thief until you find yourself in a position to take money without being caught. Don’t say you will never sleep with another man’s wife until she begins to make passes at you and you find yourselves together in the same room one day. If we don’t face temptations, we can be beating our chest (boasting), and we can go about condemning others forgetting that if not for God’s grace, we are worse.
In the three temptations of Jesus, we find a summary of all the temptations we face as humans which as St. John puts it are: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” (1 John 2:16).
*2. How to Overcome the Lust of the Flesh. (First Temptation)*
Jesus was hungry, his body craved food. Behold the devil said: “If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Adam and Eve wandered about the garden; they had tasted everything else but the forbidden tree. Behold the devil came around saying: “You will not die…your eyes will be opened, you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In both instances, the devil sought to use the lust of the flesh, that is, our natural bodily craving for carnal satisfaction; fun, food, drinks, sweet things, sexual pleasure, and other material comforts.
As St. Paul puts it: “The works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the likes. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God…. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:19- 24). Adam and Eve fell because they could not resist the urge to satisfy their flesh but Jesus was willing to crucify the flesh (to deny himself) despite his legitimate hunger. The lust of the flesh is usually the first temptation; it is our basic temptation as humans.
The secret of overcoming the lust of the flesh is to be grounded in the word of God. In the case of Adam and Eve, the devil twisted the word (instruction, command) of God making them believe God did not really say they were not to eat of any tree they wanted. Meanwhile, Jesus overcame by pointing out the importance of the word of God: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In this way, Jesus corrected the mistake of Adam and Eve as St. Paul explains in today’s second reading. This was truly a great victory. Make God’s word a priority and you will find the strength to overcome your flesh.
*3. How to Overcome the Pride of Life (Second Temptation)*
Somehow, we all long to lord it over others; we long to make ourselves gods in the eyes of others; we want people to praise us, clap for us, and even worship us. We all crave power. The devil sought to exploit this particular human trait when he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and asked him to jump down so that people would see it and think Jesus came down from heaven.
The devil even went as far as quoting the Bible to convince Jesus. It is interesting to note that in all of these three temptations, the devil was trying to make Jesus misuse His power as God in human flesh. Jesus knew how wonderful it would be to be praised by people yet Jesus realized that by jumping down, He would be putting God to the test. He said to the devil: “You shall not tempt the Lord Your God.”
The secret to overcoming this temptation is prayer. This is because prayer reminds us of our nothingness before God, it helps us to humble ourselves and conquer our pride. Also, prayer helps us develop a deep trust in God such that we no longer need God to prove Himself to us by signs and wonders.
*4. How to Overcome the Lust of the Eyes. (Third Temptation)*
The devil then showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, the palatial mansions, lands, cars, gold and silver, in short, all the beautiful things in this world saying they would be given to Jesus so long as he worships the devil. Think of the many lies we tell, the figures we falsify, the various ways we steal, the evils we do and so on just to become rich, just to show off in the best, the latest, and the cosiest.
St. John calls these things the lust of the eyes because they are simply for the looking, they never bring us any true satisfaction deep within. No wonder Adam Smith describes the human creature as an insatiable being. We just can’t get enough of this world’s riches.
The secret of overcoming this temptation is making God our priority, seeking first God’s kingdom and its righteousness; worshipping God, and not the things created by God. Very often, we fall for this temptation because we make money, riches, and fancy things our gods. Jesus said to Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
*Conclusion (Use the Three Keys of Lent)*
While prayer helps to check our pride, fasting helps us control the flesh and almsgiving prevents us from being carried away by the desire for riches. Be alert to temptations; they must come. Once you notice you are being tempted, never trust in your flesh, run to God in prayer like little children would run to the arms of their parents when they see a beast coming. I like how Matthew concludes today’s Gospel passage: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.” There is nothing as sweet as overcoming temptation. Each time we defeat the devil, we are visited by Angels and the consolation they bring always far outweighs whatever fun or pleasure the devil had promised us if we sin. Meanwhile, if we agree to the lies of the devil, we soon realize within a short time, like Adam and Eve did that we were deceived.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, endow me with the grace to overcome temptations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7, Ps. 51:3-6,12-14,17, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu