First Sunday of Lent (2014) - Resisting Temptation

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First Sunday of Lent (2014)
Resisting Temptation

I would like to speak on the subject of temptation today. It is the subject of the Gospel account of the three temptations of the Satan while Jesus was in prayer and fasting in the desert. It is the subject of the first reading which recounts the temptation by the serpent of Eve.

Lent is a time for us to focus upon our interior life. It is a time to be more conscious of the spiritual struggle that marks every Christian life. It is a good time to reflect upon the presence of temptation in our lives.

Awareness of temptation, its nature and its source is one of the defining teachings of Judaism and Christianity. It is graphically described in the second chapter of the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. This account of the sin of Eve and Adam sets up the understanding of the nature of the inner struggle which is the feature of every human life.
Let us look at the Genesis account for a moment. Firstly the source of the temptation is identified as a serpent. This serpent is a personification of Satan, the fallen angel. Let us follow what transpires in the conversation between the serpent and Eve.

The serpent begins with a seemingly harmless question: “Did God really say that you were not to eat of any of the trees in the garden?” He knows the answer – he has just wanted to start the conversation. Eve corrects him – no, we can eat of the fruit, except for the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. Satan then plants doubt in the mind of Eve – he gives a false interpretation of the intention of God’s instruction. He says that her eyes will be opened and she will become like a god. Satan makes an extraordinary claim, offers an attractive outcome for disobedience to the instruction of God. Satan sows doubt in the mind of Eve. Once we begin to think over what Satan is proposing he has half won: he will keep mounting more and more reasons to follow his proposals.

From a position of accepting the command of God, Eve now finds herself attracted to the tree. Then she gives in to the temptation and eats of the fruit and offers some to Adam.

We can notice the following about temptation: it begins in the mind, often in a harmless way, patterns of questions and offers of attractive benefits, often in the form of pleasure. They seduce our thinking and we find ourselves drawn to do something we might normally find no attraction in doing. Often the thought patterns will involve such things as: “it is no big deal”, “no one will know”, “you deserve it”, etc etc.  We are duped by lies and, isn’t it true, the final experience is never as good as what we think it will be.

Temptation is geared quite personally. It is geared to our particular wants and needs. Satan has the ability of identifying our points of susceptibility. We can see this in the case of the temptations of Jesus.

Jesus had been fasting. He was hungry. So Satan suggests something completely reasonable, “tell these stones to turn into loaves.” He knows Jesus knows he has the power to do this. The first level of temptation is to offer something quite reasonable, but in a subtle way it is something that compromises us. This kind of seemingly harmless temptation opens the door for Satan to make further progress in seducing us.

The Lord after resisting the first temptation was tempted in a second way: “You are the Son of God, angels will come to your aid, show forth your power”. The Lord was being tempted to use his power and authority in a wrong way: to use it for his own benefit. This temptation is like Kath and Kim saying, “Look at me, look at me.”

The power and authority that Jesus has was to be used for the good of others. It was to bring healing to the suffering, to show forth the mercy of God, to elicit faith and to confirm hope. His powers were to be used not for himself but for the people to whom he was sent. Satan tempted the Lord to gain attention to himself. It was a temptation for the aggrandisement of the self.

And the third temptation: “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world”. He could – the Lord commented that Satan was “the Prince of this World”. Jesus was entitled to these kingdoms, for he was King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. But as he also said to Pilate, “my Kingdom is not of this world”. Temptations always contain a grain of truth, otherwise they would never attract us. Temptation is truth twisted.

The devil will always try to drag us from the things of the spirit to the things of the flesh. There will be the temptation to seek worldly success, or material comfort, or reduce our lives to the mere physical level. We allow ourselves to live for this world alone and thus our eyes are turned from God.
What should we do about temptation? How can we handle it in our own lives? The Lord is our clear guide here. His response to each of the temptations was clear and decisive – he rebuked Satan. For example in the third of the temptations he says: “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone”. It is worth noting that he dealt with temptation by quoting Sacred Scripture. The lies of Satan were rebuked by the truth of Word of God.

The Gospel accounts of the temptations in the desert not only reveal the ways in which the devil will tempt us, but also we can see how the Lord so firmly rejected these temptations. He saw them for what they were. This is an example for us.

Stand firm against the devil and he will run from you, advises St Peter. If we show weakness before temptation the devil will gain confidence and intensify his attacks. If we rebuke him he will flee. The Lord’s response to a temptation posed by Peter is a very useful one for us to use: “Get behind me Satan”, or simply – “Begone, Satan”. 

We need to see temptation for what it is, firmly resist it in our minds. There is a spiritual battle taking place about each of us. Satan is intent on dragging us down to hell. He will never let up. As he gets a foothold his work becomes easier.
One sure source of spiritual strength to overcome temptation is the regular use of the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament we are purified and renewed in grace, stronger to stand up to the wiles of the Evil One. Go to confession as part of the discipline of Lent.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 8 March 2014