First Reading: Genesis 2: 7-9, 3:1-7 Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19 Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
“LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.”
A Homily Adapted in part from a work written by Father Albert Lakra
Last Wednesday, 'Ash Wednesday,' we began our Lenten pilgrimage and today is the First Sunday of Lent. As you are aware, Lent is a Holy Season, a time of grace, a period comprising of forty days during which the whole Church renews itself through prayer, fasting and works of piety. And for this week, the common theme in the Scripture Readings is of ‘Temptation.’
In the 1st Reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear about our first parents, Adam and Eve, and of them being tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden, and in the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we hear about Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. These two temptation stories are essentially about making choices – either in favor of God or against Him.
Temptations come to all of us in our lives as well – in various disguise of course. They are part and parcel of each of our lives. So what is a temptation? A temptation is a trick, a deception, a lie. It conceals the truth and presents falsehood to us as the truth. A temptation may even offer us something good, but entices us to use it in a false and selfish way. These temptations come from the devil, who is called the “father of lies.”
In the story of Adam and Eve we hear again about the perfect world God created for humans, and how through a temptation Adam established a pattern that led to sin and death. The Eden story was actually a drama woven of pretense and cover-up. Adam and Eve were the first to bite on a big lie: a lie that included the denial that we as creatures of God are dependent on God. The serpent, that cunning beast, that lord of lies, taunted their obedience and reliance on God. Ah, the attraction of having no limits. To be God. To be self-sufficient, self-made. The pretense was attractive, desirable. The trick looked so wise.
The devil, being the master of deceit, knows human psychology only too well. His first task was to get the attention of Eve. Thus his question, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" Eve right away saw the half-truth in the question so she corrected him saying that they could eat of the fruit of all the trees except that of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad.” And God's command was clear, "You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die." We see here how Eve, by arguing with the devil, got hooked. Then the devil took immediate advantage of his gain. He told Eve that they would not die; instead he stated, "Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." Her curiosity was aroused. Eve saw that the fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom. Eve then took a fruit and ate it. She gave one to her husband Adam who likewise ate it. All of a sudden both of them realized that they were naked. Ashamed of their nakedness in front of each other, they covered parts of themselves, and now being afraid of God, they went into hiding. They had fallen and sin had entered the world!
Sin brings about a dislocation in relationships. Instead of openness – hiding or covering–up became a way of relating to God and to each other. This is not unique to Adam and Eve, but is true to us as well. And sadly, we justify our weaknesses and sins with all kinds of rationalizations. And if we are honest, This story represents our life as well.
But there is hope, Let us now turn our attention to Jesus and the story of his temptations. After his baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan River, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he prayed and fasted for forty days and nights, and afterward he too was tested. The testing was done not by God directly but by the Evil One, the Tempter. The three temptations of Jesus are the same three essential weapons that the devil has in his arsenal to destroy us too, humanity.
The first temptation is of appetite, that being (pleasure / gluttony / and materialism) – to change stones into bread. It demanded that miraculous power be used to provide for basic material needs. The tempter sensed a weakness that Jesus was hungry, that he had not eaten for forty days. The tempter said that if he was truly the Son of God, he could command the stones to become bread. To this Jesus responded through the words of Scripture that a person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Here Jesus is indicating that his mission was not fulfilled by providing for basic needs, but rather by proclaiming the Word that is life.
The second Temptation is that of ambition (power / fame / and boasting) - to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. It demanded that Divine power be used to produce a spectacular 'sign' that would compel anyone to believe. In this temptation, the devil offered him a chance to prove his power as God’s son by throwing himself down from the parapet of the temple. He knew that as recorded in the Psalms, Jesus could do this without being hurt. Jesus using a passage from Scripture, from the Book of Deuteronomy, responded to Satan by saying, he would not test God’s word by doing something foolish or unnecessary. He would trust his Father in the direction of his mission.
The third temptation is that of arrogance (pride / vanity / and idolatry) - To worship the devil who can give power and wealth. In this final temptation, Jesus was placed by the devil on a very high mountain and offered the kingdoms of the world in return for worshiping him. Jesus absolutely rejected the offer and told the devil to go away from him. He once again quotes the Book of Deuteronomy which says that every creature has to worship the Lord God, and serve Him alone and no one else. It is the cardinal truth of the Scripture taken from the Ten Commandments to worship God alone and no other gods. Jesus was not swayed. He indeed had won over the subtle temptations of the devil.
These three temptations are also our temptations, and to them, somehow, all temptations are connected. The devil invites us to turn towards self. And in contrast, Jesus invites us to turn towards God. In fact, these three tests are really symbols of the real tests that not only do we find in the life of Jesus, but in our lives as well. They draw attention to our Appetite, Ambition, & Arrogance.They speak of our desire for Pleasure, Power, & Pride.
We must never forget that all temptations come to us under the guise of some kind of goodness. I seriously doubt that anyone here would willingly choose to do something purely evil, but we are tempted when there is a positive benefit that may come from a less than honorable action.
So what is it that Christ is trying to teach us? I believe that we must realize that we are all on a human journey that includes fall and redemption. Like Adam and Eve, and Jesus, we all face temptations. Original sin reminds us that we humans tend to give in to temptation. It is a family trait. The mother and father of the race did it, and we also do it. So, when we are tempted, we should not trust in our own abilities or strength, because we are sinful from our origins. How many of us had fought against temptation and lost! All of us!
Instead, when confronted with a temptation we should trust in Jesus and his strength, because God is gracious and has been from the beginning. Where humanity fails, Jesus prevails. So the point is that we should follow his lead when we face temptations. We should look at how Jesus faced temptations. We should learn from his example. Then when we face the same temptations, those temptations of: Appetite, Ambition, & Arrogance, of Pleasure, Power and Pride, which we all do, we can then resist them, and be victorious over them.
I would be remiss to not say that in our imperfection, when we all fall, we are to run to the healing that is found in confession. Do not let our pride or shame prevent us from accepting God’s grace, the grace that can be found in confession, to heal the sinful stain upon our souls, and accepting the grace that can help empower our ability to fight temptation. Confession is our weapon against the devil. He hates it! God’s mercy and strength is waiting….. but He allows our free will to accept it, or reject it!
And finally, Let us take some time during this Lenten season to prayerfully reflect upon our lives, identifying the specific temptations that the devil uses to initiate our fall, our sinfulness, and ponder how we can ask for, and use, God’s grace to grow in holiness.
This is Lent, a time for prayer, fasting, and works of Piety (charity).
In this time of quiet reflection, in our prayers, let us not forget the prayer that Jesus himself has taught us, “The Our Father,” which includes those powerful words– “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”