Temptations are real. Temptations are inevitable. Temptations are an everyday affair. Yet, we do not spend too much time reflecting on them. This is because our focus is on avoiding temptations rather than succumbing to them.
The Gospels, however, tell us about the temptations of Jesus. They reflect upon them. They not only tell us what Jesus’ temptations were, but they also tell us what Christ did when he was tempted and how Jesus overcame the temptations. In fact, today’s gospel seems to suggest that Christ’s temptations were not a chance happening. Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted”(Lk 4:1). In other words, Jesus went into the desert to face his temptations.
During this Lent, I am suggesting that, like Christ, we face our temptations. We can learn many things about us, our human nature, and our faith, if we reflect on our temptations. They can also help us to grow in holiness and grow in our relationship with God and with one another.
Reflecting on the temptations that Jesus faced in Luke’s Gospel, what are the implications we can draw for ourselves, when we face our own temptations?
First of all, we get to know ourselves. The Devil crafted Jesus’ first temptation very carefully. He said, “If you are the Son of God” (Lk 4:3). He was trying to lead Christ to ask himself, “Who am I?” The Devil suggested that for Jesus to confirm his identity, all he had to do was command the stone to become bread. In the third temptation, one more time the Devil tried to toy with Jesus’ identity. He invited Jesus to throw himself down from the parapet of the Temple and prove to himself that he is the Son of God.
The Devil was clever in his temptation. The real temptation was not about turning stone into bread, but to self-doubt. The Devil was proposing that by giving into the temptation to turn stone into bread and throwing himself down from the temple parapet, Jesus should confirm his identity. But the opposite was true. It would be by refusing to succumb to the Devil’s temptations to doubt himself that Jesus would confirm his identity. Here, Jesus both faced the temptation and faced himself. He understood the temptation and he understood himself. He refused to let himself be tempted by self-doubt. He overcame the first temptation and confirmed his identity as the Son of God.
Facing our temptations and reflecting upon them can reveal much about ourselves and help us to grow. What are the temptations we face? What do our temptations say about us? Do we see patterns? What are our temptations ‘really’ about? How do face them? What does Jesus teach us through his temptations? These are good questions we can ask this Lent and as we journey through life into eternity.
The times when we face our temptations can become moments of faith. Luke does not call Jesus’ forty days without food ‘fasting’. He merely says, “He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry” (Lk 4:2). The Devil waited a full forty days and tempted Jesus when he was weak from hunger, thirst, fatigue and perhaps mentally delirious from lack of nourishment. Luke also tells us that that Devil “departed from him for a time” (Lk 4:13). Jesus was again tempted in the garden of Gethsemane and then on the Cross. Note that these were Jesus’ most vulnerable moments. Somehow, Jesus was able to turn these moments of temptations into moments of faith.
I am not going to suggest that everyone experiences exact the same patterns of temptation as Christ. But it is important to know and understand the patterns of temptation in our lives, whatever they may be. For example, I am inclined to get angry when I am hungry. I am inclined to be frustrated when I am tired. These are patterns. The key is to turn these moments of temptation into moments of faith. This is not some psychological gimmick but a spiritual exercise. When we are tempted to turn on God, when we are tempted to turn on ourselves, when we are tempted to turn on each other, we need to be able to turn our temptations into opportunities to grow in faith.
How might we turn our moments of temptation into moments of faith? Today’s first reading has an answer. It is interesting that on the first Sunday of Lent, the very first reading describes the establishment of the ritual of offering “first fruits” at the temple (Deut 26:4-10). What are “first fruits” and why this scripture reading today?
First fruits are the first and best of each year’s harvest. When the people of Israel settled in the Promised Land after their exit from Egypt, they were required to offer the first fruits of all the farm produce to the priest at the temple. Even the first-born child was presented at the temple. This was not because God is needy or selfish and wants the first and the best for God. Rather, it helped Israel overcome temptations – the temptation to pride, the temptation to create another golden calf, the temptation to worship nature, the temptation to idolize oneself and one’s labor, the temptation to self-glorification, the temptation to materialism and consumerism. If we think about it, these were the very temptations with which the Devil tempted Jesus.
Indeed, offering the first fruits helped Israel bring God to the center of their existence. It helped Israel remember that they owed their origins, their blessings, and their destiny to God. It helped Israel keep God at center of their lives, their existence, their work, their leisure, their society, and nation.
If we want to turn our moments of temptations into moments of faith it is not enough simply to face our temptations. The most important thing is to ensure that God is right at the center of our existence. Jesus overcame the Devil’s every temptation with words from Hebrew Scripture. Even though he was the Son of God, Jesus kept his Father at the center in a profound and radical way. In the desert, at Gethsemane, and on the cross, Jesus put the first fruits, his work, his preaching, his miracles, his disciples, his mother, indeed his last breath, in God’s hands.
As we begin Lent 2022, let us face life and face our temptations as Jesus did. As we receive Him in Holy Communion in theEucharist, let us intentionally, consciously, face our temptation, bring Christ radically to the center, and continue our journey toward eternity. Amen.
Based upon the author’s homily for Sunday, March 6, 2022 — the First Sunday of Lent.
Image: Adobe Stock. By Sanja.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.