In today’s Gospel (Mt. 4: 1-11) we see Jesus tempted by the devil. I think the example of this series of temptations is a most valuable instruction for anyone desiring to take Lent seriously. Obviously the Church does as well, since the first Sunday of each Lent begins by recalling these temptations.
First, we see that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert? The desert is an austere place where a person must confront many harsh realities: severe weather, lack of comfortable amenities, silence and danger, as a start. When we are deprived of creature comforts, remove noisy distractions, and must face harsh realities, we can and should begin to realize the complete dependence that we have on Almighty God. We are put in a situation where the desert and its silence can become the place where we hear the voice of God more clearly and powerfully. And that is where Satan often begins to interfere as well.
Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. Not only was he in the desert, but he also took on bodily penance. He was hungry. Why deprive ourselves of anything? If we live only for this world, then self-sacrifice, mortification, and penance seem ridiculous. However, denying oneself (and picking up the cross) was given as a condition for discipleship by Jesus (See Mt. 16:24). Discipline and self-sacrifice strengthen a person both physically and spiritually. A person becomes more prepared to live out the sacrificial love Jesus most perfectly demonstrated by His death on the cross.
Why, then, when we are trying to do something spiritually beneficial, do temptations arise? Let’s face this harsh reality head on: Satan and his followers hate anyone trying to serve the Lord and grow closer to Him. They will put any possible obstacle in our way to prevent this from happening. We may be tempted to physical, earthly pleasure (food, drink, sex, drugs, and anything that makes us feel good or gives us a temporary “high”) instead of the eternal, spiritual satisfaction that comes from the love of Almighty God. Basically, it is hedonism to one degree or another. Command that these stones become loaves of bread.
We can be tempted by our ego. Whenever we are proud (in the sense of hubris), boastful, unwilling to seek help (when needed), arrogant, or overconfident in our own ability or skills, we can ascend that parapet where we think that we do not need God. Or worse yet, we think that we are god. No one can tell me what to do. I know best. I will not serve. This type of thinking (egoism) is represented in Jesus’ second temptation.
Finally, temptation can take the form of wealth or earthly goods. Material possessions become the reason for my existence. My home, my car, my vacation(s), my boat, my bank account, my jewelry, etc. become my god. I think more things will make me happy. All the kingdoms of the world . . . I shall give you. At what price? This was the third temptation in the desert (materialism).
Remember, temptation is not sin. In his humanity, Jesus resisted these temptations and did not sin. He faced Satan head on and rejected his false allurements. Jesus showed us that when we focus and direct our actions completely on the love of God, then we have the ability to do the same. The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.
Go into the desert this Lent. Face your demons. It is there where they can be confronted and conquered.
Fr. Ed Namiotka