1st Sunday of Lent
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Psalm - 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Second Reading - Romans 10:8-13
Gospel - Luke 4:1-13
Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him. "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, One does not live on bread alone".
Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, "I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me". Jesus said to him in reply, "It is written, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve".
Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone". Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test". When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
It seems that the whole notion of temptation is very much ingrained into Western culture. Advertisers use the word "temptation" when they market products as being attractive. The Our Father includes a line about us not being led into temptation. Years ago, there was even a pop quartet which took the name, "The Temptations." More recently, there was a movie called The Fighting Temptations. Not surprisingly, the whole concept of temptation was not something lost on our Lord. In fact, our Gospel on this First Sunday of Lent directs our attention to how our Lord was tempted by the devil. So, what I would like to do this morning is to give some catechesis on what temptations really are all about: that is, the difference between temptation and sin; how Christ Himself was tempted and how the devil uses temptation to get us to commit sin. These points should help us to better understand the interior life and how to better equip ourselves to keep temptations at bay and not allow them to lead us into sin.
First, we must recognize that temptations and sins are different entities. So often I find individuals who beat themselves up with guilt over having experienced temptations, which they actually confuse for being sins. The Catechism defines temptation as: An attraction either from outside oneself or from within, to act contrary to right reason and the commandments of God. Sin is different: sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the law of God. So, let's say that you're having a conversation with a friend about a guy named Ted because you are concerned for Ted's welfare. In the middle of the conversation, you have an unsolicited thought about saying something uncharitable about Ted. You're being tempted to commit the sin of slander or detraction, for example. As the conversation goes on, you resist the temptation to verbally express this unsolicited thought and just leave it alone. That's not sin - that's called VICTORY! Just because you had a bad thought about another, doesn't mean sin occurred. So long as you did not intentionally conjure up the bad thought and so long as you dismiss it, the temptation remains a temptation, not a sin. This is a crucial distinction because it can be the case that we often accuse ourselves of committing sins when in fact we actually overcame a temptation. Just because a thought pops into your head, does not mean sin occurs right away. If the thought is not taken in as part of the will, then it remains a temptation. We can build real spiritual muscle by resisting the temptation to sin and thus avoiding sin altogether.
Second, we ought to consider how Christ was tempted. He was tempted in a very different way than you and I would be tempted. You and I are subject to temptations from outside ourselves (like from the devil) or from within because of original sin. One of the effects of original sin is that it causes disordered desires within our souls. We start to desire things we ought not to. This would be at the root, for example, of adultery or unchastity. When I was in the seminary, I once told my spiritual director that I really felt the the devil was tempting me in this way and that. My director said, "Don't give yourself that much credit. The devil doesn't need to tempt you. You tempt yourself. The devil already has your help." Believe you me, these are words I will never forget. Isn't this in fact the truth? How often do we place ourselves in near occasions of sin and in other tempting situations and then are so quick to point to the devil as the person who tempted us? Isn't it in fact more often the case that we do his work for him? The devil likes to come after us when we are idle and solitary; when we are tired and frustrated. So, we need to better recognize when we are more prone to give in to temptation and then do everything in our ability, by God's grace, to avoid it. This is born out of a real aversion to want to sin.
Jesus, on the other hand, could not have been tempted from within because He did not experience the effects of original sin. The same would be true of Our Lady. So, Jesus was only tempted from the outside. it's often an overlooked fact, but notice that it was actually the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the dessert to be tempted - the Holy Spirit! It forces us to ask, "Why?" St. John Chrysotom, an early Father of the Church, tells us that Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted in order to give us an example of steadfastness in the fact of evil. We're also forced to ask, "Why does God allow us to be tempted?" St. John Chrysostom tells us that the Lord allows temptations to come our way in order to confirm our strength against it in Christ Jesus; in order to sometimes humble us and remind us that God is ultimately in charge of our lives; and as proof that God truly loves us, or else the devil wouldn't waste his time on us.
Lastly, let's consider how the devil operates as tempter. When he tempts the Lord, the devil does several things:
1. St. John refers to the devil as the Father of Lies (Jn. 8:44). Satan is the master deceiver. Just look at how he tricked Adam and Eve. The devil doesn't overpower us - he simply relies on our fallen nature to attract us to things that are apparently good, but are actually not very good for us at all. When we sin, we do things or think things that seem good to us. The devil dupes us.
2. In the case of our Lord, the devil uses legitimately good things and tries to make them appear to be better then what God the Father has in mind for the Lord Jesus. So, the devil appeals to our Lord's natural desire for food; and then to kingship - to have Christ's teachings embodied in the law and mores of all nations; and then he tempts our Lord with the devotion of the people, if only our Lord will cast himself down from the Temple parapet so as to have the angels rescue Him. Each of these things that the devil uses are goods. But they are not what the Father intends for the Lord. Hence, they are temptations from the true mission of Jesus - to die at Calvary for the redemption of all.
3. In our case, the devil tries to cause division among family members and between husbands and wives. The devil appeals to our good instincts and rarely does he offer things that are blatantly bad for us. For example, he may dupe parents into thinking that in order to provide the best for their children (which is a good thought), it's necessary to have fewer children and even use contraception to achieve this end. Or, he may trick parents into thinking that providing the best for their children means that both parents have to work, to the neglect of the children's development, when in fact both parents need not work. Or, parents can be tricked into thinking that giving their children "the best" means acquiring the latest toys or even the most expensive education, only to have materialism choke off the spiritual lives of their kids. Again, there's nothing wrong at all with wanting the best for our children but be aware of how the devil may be tempting you to achieve it in ways that are not what God really wants.
4. Even individuals who desire to live virtuously can experience the temptation to have no compassion on those who are lukewarm. Others who are patient with the faults with others can be tempted to slip into an ambivalence about error. Even our talents can be sources of inordinate pride.
You see how we are always in a precarious situation. Even the good things in life can be temptations for sin. Hence, we're always in need of discernment; of a pure heart that can truly listen to God and answer his call, as difficult as that can be at times.
At the end of the day, we have two weapons to match the deceptions of the evil one: humility and obedience. A true humility always recognizes and accepts that is is God alone who directs our lives and it is through obedience to the teachings of Christ made known through the Church He established that we have assurance of sound moral and doctrinal footing. The devil's pride caused him to disobey God. He said, non serviam - I will not serve. May the humility and obedience of both the Blessed Mother at the Annunciation and the Lord Jesus at Calvary be our ultimate examples and guides.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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