Lent is here. Jesus is tempted. As are we.
But it is often difficult to understand the scriptural temptations, as found in the Gospel. Let us look at them. They will help us with our own.
(1) First is food. Jesus has been on a major fast, and the devil knows it. “Don’t worry!” he says. “You are rich! You are God! You can have all the food you want. Just turn this rock into bread!”
“The Father’s words are bread enough for me,” Jesus says.
(2) Second, what about honor? The devil says, “You can be the great one whom everyone respects! Think about how good that would feel. Side with me! OK, technically you would be worshipping me, but if you understand things my way, you are just taking care of ‘number one.’ Try it.”
Jesus’ quiet response: “I pledge myself to the Lord my God, not to you. Such honors would tear me apart.”
(3) Third, pride. The devil: “You know that heaven must do whatever you command! Jump off this temple roof and prove your importance! Angels will rush down from heaven to catch you! Everyone will admire you! Come on, show us what you’ve got!”
Jesus: “Yes I am very close to heaven and to God. But hear this. I choose to let God’s gentle, quiet love be my life. Not pride.”
Three temptations and three balanced, humble answers. Jesus knew how to hear his Abba’s words over the devil’s babble, and he would not desert the great love of his life, God.
The devil, canny, resolves to try again later (on the cross).
This analysis should make it easier to understand our own temptations. Check it out this Lent. Possessions? Cars, books, clothes, appearance, and so on. You know the kind of list we could each make. Eating too much. Buying too much. Sexual lures. Holding our tongue when fairness demands that we speak out. Speaking out when we should be quiet. OK, these are just human foibles but they are also traps. “Look away from God,” they say. “He is outmoded anyway. Be interested in yourself. No one else is.”
And honors? Do you ever try to please other people so they will have a good opinion of you? We used to call this “human respect.” What would happen if your son or daughter were thrown off the team at school? How did you react when you lost your job? And so on.
Americans still sit at their desks or cars or kitchen tables, working hard, worrying about meetings and deadlines, wondering if they can live up to their own expectations and those of others. Or how to just keep their jobs. We say we have essential work to do. We are important. What we do makes us worthwhile.
Could this Lent be the right time to unscramble your values? Since God is the most wonderful and loving being anywhere, do you really want to block him out with lesser, undependable desires, especially those that boil down to riches, honors or pride? Isn’t this true: whatever really counts in your life is actually rooted in the love of God and not the other way around.
Here is how Jesus put it: “Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31).
John Foley S. J.