At certain moments in our lives, we feel the need to be alone.
This may have been caused by varying circumstances in our lives. The stress of the day, the questions that arise from our dealings with others in work, play and prayer. Sometimes this desire to be alone is so strong that we simply cannot help staying away from the company of people. Sometimes too, the need to go inwards is thrown open to the community of God’s people as is the case with our journey with Jesus during this season of Lent. These instances have something in common: the need for self-discovery. We want to find out more about ourselves and even about our identity as children of God. We desire to take stock of our lives to determine how well we shall fare in our Lenten struggle and how much adjustment needs to be made as we prepare to celebrate Easter.
We have set out on a journey of discovery or perhaps, rediscovery. We have decided to pause from the hustle of daily living to look inwards and decide on how best our next step should be. The voyage of self-discovery has always yielded fruitful results. Moses discovered his mission when he met God in the Burning bush (Ex chaps 3 & 4). Elijah’s encounter on mount Horeb (1 King 19:9-18) helped him regain the zeal to prophesy and helped him identify his successor. These were trying times for them; we must not expect anything less as Christians.
In today’s Gospel, we learn that after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. This marked a turning point in his life as it set the stage for the beginning of his ministry. He was tempted by the devil after 40 days of prayer and fasting.
For the Jews, the wilderness was the dwelling place of wild animals and evil spirits. It was also surprisingly, a place where people went to seek spiritual upliftment. At the end of his fast, he was hungry, and the devil seized the opportunity to tempt him.
A temptation tests a person to show the quality of his love for God. One may be prayerful, attend Mass regularly, and attend many retreats and spiritual activities but the quality of the person’s faith must be tested. St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:17 that temptation is a struggle between the flesh and the spirit, natural and supernatural:
The desires of self-indulgence are always in opposition to the Spirit, and desires of the Spirit are in opposition to self-indulgence: they are opposites…that is how you are prevented from doing the things you want to do.
There are two kinds of temptation. The first is known as the Temptation of Probation. In this instance, the trial is permitted by God to prove the faithfulness of his followers. Abraham was tested in Genesis 22 when he was ordered to sacrifice his only son Isaac. In his address to the people of Israel, Moses reminds them how God led them by the long road for forty years in the desert in order to humble them and know their inmost heart- whether they would keep his commandments or not (cf Deuteronomy 8:ff). We also have other instances in the lives of Joseph, Job and even Joseph in the New Testament who went through trying times and triumphed in proving their faithfulness to God. We must note that God does not will evil on his people nor would he incite anyone to sin. All that happens to us is meant to strengthen our faith and these could come in different forms: sickness, loss of job, false accusation, defamation of character due to envy or jealousy, miscarriage, or childlessness. Difficult as it may sound, these are means of building our faith.
The other is known as the Temptation of Solicitation. This is a direct inducement to sin, and it comes from the devil that uses his powers to work on our senses, imagination, and the flesh. His motive is to get as many as he can to go contrary to the will of God and his mode of operation is by making evil attractive. We must realise that none is immune from this kind of temptation as today’s Gospel attests that even the Son of God was tempted in the desert after 40 days of prayer and fasting. We often succumb to this form of temptation because man by nature has the desire to always favour the self and the evil one capitalises on this.
This form of temptation begins with a strong suggestion that appeals to the senses: a sound, a picture, a particular smell, or taste. It can happen anywhere and at least expected moments. The next step is the appeal to pleasure; that is, the prospect of what is to be enjoyed. Everything looks bright and appealing but up to this point, no sin has been committed. The third step marks the person’s entry into the path of sin when the person makes the conscious and intentional decision to carry out the action. On the other hand, the one who conquers temptation is on the path of spiritual progress. It is, therefore, necessary for us to take the words of the letter of James 4: 7-8 to heart: “Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God; the nearer God will come to you.” It is worthwhile to note also at this point that the one who is forced or unconsciously carries out a sinful action cannot be said to have committed sin because the person’s will was inhibited.
Let us reflect on the temptations of Jesus in order and see how they affect our lives.
“Turn these stones into bread” points to the search for pleasure. Here Jesus is tempted to use supernatural powers to seek personal comfort. The desire to be satisfied with material comfort is sometimes overwhelming to the point that we forget that our lives are not totally dependent upon them. This often lures us to begin to seek false sources of salvation among individuals who make the service of God into business. The feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction that results from this misadventure grips us to the extent that we desire something more enriching; something that fulfils our every desire in a way that pleasure cannot. We come to this realization when we encounter God in the scriptures since man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Secondly, Jesus was also tempted with power. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here”. If he had jumped from the pinnacle of the temple, he would not have needed to say or do anything else as conversion would have been instantaneous. Many would have been drawn to Christ for the wrong reason which is the desire to share in his power. It is worth noting that Satan quoted the scriptures to tempt Jesus. (Ps 91:10-12). Sometimes too we may desire positions of power to help others, but we may use improper means to achieve our goals. On getting there, new ideas emerge, and the initial intentions are swept away. This temptation also sheds light on the impatience of man as he seeks immediate results. When our faith is tested, we want to get out of the challenging situation immediately. We are not patient enough to learn a lesson or two from the experience, so we seek quick solutions. 1 Jn 4:1-3 advises us to test all spirits as not all come from God. We must pray gift of discernment and meet our Spiritual Directors for guidance. No matter how good our intentions are, we must not put God to the test.
“I will give you all the power and glory of these kingdoms…Worship me then, and it shall be yours”. The devil displayed his power and many attractive gifts in exchange for worship. Our economic situation today makes it very easy to fall into this trap: the worship of wealth. Many have sold their souls to the devil in blood covenants and even killed to acquire wealth. Even as we listen, someone is busy thinking about compromising his integrity to acquire wealth. The fact remains that the effects of the attractive gifts received from bowing down to the devil are short-lived. You may have met someone whose life fits this description and even if you don’t why do you want to be the one who would make the mistakes that others will learn from? Dt 6:13 is clear on the fact that we must worship God alone.
Temptation has its benefits. It helps us to be patient and wait on the Lord whose plans for us will always be fulfilled. Our trying times also draw us closer to God by building our lives of prayer and strengthening our faith. We also grow in humility because we realise our limitations and shun the attitude which prompts us to look down on others as sinners. We are also able to discipline our bodies and will to do only those things that are pleasing to God.
We must not lose hope in our fight against temptation but keep praying for personal conversion. We must go to confession regularly as the Sacrament of Reconciliation not only forgives sins; it gives us the grace that strengthens our souls in our daily struggle against sin.
God assures us of his protection and tells us not to be afraid. To appreciate this, we must first identify the nature according to which we live. In Rom 8:5-13 St Paul identifies two inclinations in man: the flesh and the spirit. We are to live according to the inclinations of the Spirit since the true spiritual life looks forward to life and peace while the natural inclinations tend towards death. Be that as it may, we must live according to the spirit since the Holy Spirit lives in us. Our five senses record information that is stored in the memory. Thus, the good or bad words and actions we entertain would accumulate in the mind and would determine our spiritual growth or spiritual blindness. Our effort must therefore be geared forwards toward filling our hearts with grace so that would be no room for sin. This requires a lot of effort on our part but more importantly, we must rely on the grace of God.
Let us pray: Lord, when trials come our way, help us to be patient and wait on you confident that your plans for us will always be fulfilled. May our trying times draw us closer to You by building our lives of prayer and strengthening our faith. May God bless every member of the Ascension Family through Christ our Lord.