Temptation is about choices

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

First Sunday of Lent

After Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and from a cloud a voice was heard, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” But what followed shortly came as a surprise. Jesus was led by the same Spirit to the desert where He prayed and fasted for 40 days and in the end was tempted three times (Lk. 4:1-13). Why should Jesus whom the Father publicly said was His Son undergo temptation? As we shall see, in these temptations Satan tried to make Jesus abandon His mission or failing that, to show Him other options on how to carry it out.

Jesus was obviously hungry after His fasting. To satisfy His hunger, the devil asked Him to turn stone into bread. In rejecting this temptation, Jesus also rejected Satan's insinuation that His divine Sonship canceled out His human condition, that His messianic mission would escape the limitations of His being human.

Failing in this, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and promised to hand all these to Him if He would only worship him. With Jesus' refusal, He rejected the view that His mission was political and that it was to be waged in the political arena. On the contrary, His was a divine mission and it consisted in doing the will of the Father. Had He yielded to Satan's suggestion, He would have rejected the total gift of Himself to the Father, His “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

Satan finally brought Jesus on the parapet of the temple of Jerusalem and told Him to throw Himself down as the angels would save Him anyway. In rejecting Satan's suggestion to draw people and their allegiance to Him through dramatic and sensational acts, Jesus rejected the view that his divine Sonship entailed a special protection in the human sphere. He also knew that any effort to circumvent His human limitations would be a betrayal of God's plan for His Incarnation.

As we have seen, Jesus was steadfast in making His choice in favor of His Father. The keyword is choice. Though we often think of temptation as connected with sin (it becomes sin only when we act on it knowingly and willingly), more often than not, it is really about choices — in favor of God or of self. Moreover, every choice is important as it either strengthens or weakens our allegiance to God.

Nowadays, some people assert that Satan is a myth. They can not be more wrong. Satan is as real as you and I and he has only one goal: to separate us from God through the allure of riches, fame and power. To accomplish this he capitalizes on our never ending craving for self–satisfaction.

Satan can not be happier when people believe that he does not exist as he does not have to show his face anymore. For why should he when he has them already worshiping before the temple of riches, power and fame? As for agents, Satan is not short of people who constantly bombard us with the line, “If you buy or use this product (a thing or a person for your pleasure) you will not only have the greatest satisfaction now but also be the envy of everybody.”

What about Jesus' appeal for us to live according to the gospel values of truth, justice and love? For mortification and sacrifices to instill self–discipline. For Satan and his cohorts, those are all for the birds. For them what matters is “gratification now.”

But there are also people — you and I — who are serious in their following of Jesus. We want to discover what Jesus really wants of us and the choices we have to make to accomplish this. This makes Satan alert and active again. He wants to be there when we make our choices so that he can draw the most effective way from his bag of tricks to make us choose self over against God.

Luke ended his temptation account with the words, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” In effect, Satan never gave up on Jesus. Neither would he on us. For this reason, we must never lower our guard on the choices we make every moment, every day — for as long as we live.

With Ash Wednesday, we began the season of Lent. Like Jesus' 40 days of praying and fasting in the desert, Lent is a season of 40 days (ending after Vespers of Holy Wednesday) when we prepare ourselves for the proper observance of the Lord's Paschal Mystery: His Passion, Death and Resurrection — “the great mysteries of our redemption.” During this period, let us review our past choices and see whether they were for God over self or vice versa. If it is the latter, let us pray for the grace to reverse the unhappy situation. Then we can make Lent our way of journeying with Jesus to Easter.