THEME: OVERCOMING TEMPTATIONS
READINGS: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 / Romans 5:12-19 / Matthew 4:1-11
1st Sunday of Lent
Today is the first Sunday of lent, a period of forty days of spiritual preparation for the commemoration of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection at Easter. The period of forty days mirrors Jesus’ forty days and nights of prayer and fasting in the wilderness.
Jesus was tempted at the end of His prayer and fasting, but He overcame all the temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). This gospel reading gives us both an alert and an assurance. First, the alert: we are alerted that if the Son of God who became human was tempted, then we could be tempted. What, then, is the assurance? This is it: as Jesus overcame His temptations, so we can overcome our temptations, because of the grace of God.
FREEDOM AND TEMPTATION
Today’s first reading (Gen. 2:7-9; 3:1-7) comprises of excerpts from the bible stories of God’s creation, the temptation of Adam and Eve, their fall and its consequences. One of the attributes of God the Creator is His freedom. Therefore, in creating us in His image and likeness, He endowed us with freedom. With our freedom, we make choices. The choices could be good or bad, right or wrong. Thus, Adam and Eve could have chosen life by eating of the fruit of any tree except of the fruit of the tree that was in the middle of the garden. Unfortunately, when tempted, they chose death by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree (Gen. 3:2-4).
Adam and Eve would have made the right choice if they had obeyed God. Our good or right choices are those in line with the will of God, and they are for our good even if on some occasions, they initially do not seem beneficial to us. On the other hand, the wrong choices are detrimental to us, even though sometimes they are appealing or seem beneficial to us. For instance, in the Genesis story, though God had told Adam and Eve that eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree would lead to their death, the tempting serpent made the fruit appealing to them. The serpent told Eve: ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God’ (Gen. 3:4-5). This is so appealing: not to die and to be like God.
Temptation, then, is like bait used by a fisherman. This attracts the fish. The fish sees food, something apparently good for it, but in the end, it means a trap and death for it. That is how temptation works on us. Adam and Eve were promised by the tempter that if they took the fruit of the tree, their eyes would be opened. Ironically, their eyes were opened like the eyes of a hooked fish!
In other words, Adam and Eve realized that their choice was wrong only after they had fallen into the temptation. They experienced nakedness (i.e. guilt and shame), were sent out of garden (God’s glorious presence) and eventually died (like a hooked fish). Similarly, often we realize that our choice is wrong only after we have fallen into a temptation. Thus, like Adam and Eve, we experience guilt and shame, become distant from God, and ultimately, death will follow.
VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION
Whereas the old Adam and his wife succumbed to temptation, i.e. sinned; Jesus, the new Adam, overcame all His temptations. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus overcame all the three temptations. He, therefore, teaches us how to overcome temptations.
THE FIRST TEMPTATION was for Jesus to turn stones into bread. This temptation was appealing as Jesus was hungry. Jesus, however, overcame the temptation to use His power for selfish gains. His was victorious over the temptation, because He chose to obey His Father’s will rather than satisfy His hunger. Thus, He told the tempter: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God’ (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So, like Jesus, when we are tempted to use our power/position for selfish gains, let us choose to obey the will of God.
THE SECOND TEMPTATION required Jesus to be sensational or to put God to the test by jumping down from the pinnacle of the Temple (Matt. 4:5-6). Again, Jesus overcame this temptation by putting God first. Thus, Jesus avoided the unthinkable of putting His Father to the test. Priests and other pastors can fall to the temptation of being sensational: instead of leading people to God, we may – due to the desire for wealth and fame – attract them to ourselves (by performing questionable miracles). Furthermore, since students do not have the mandate to examine their teachers, we should avoid putting God to the test. We should, for instance, avoid always looking for signs and wonders before believing in God.
IN THE THIRD TEMPTATION, the devil showed Jesus all the earthly kingdoms and promised to give them to Jesus if He worshipped him (Matt. 4:8). Thus, Jesus was tempted to worship a ‘god’ other than His Father, or tempted to compromise on His faith and mission. Once again, Jesus overcame the temptation by His obedience to the Father’s will: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’ (Matt. 4:10).
As Jesus was promised material wealth and fame, so in our search for wealth and fame, we may be tempted to abandon our faith in the one and only Living God. Similarly, we may be tempted to compromise on our Christian faith and principles. For instance, a young lady in search of a job may compromise on her principle of chastity. Similarly, a young man may give in to the temptation of getting rich quick through internet fraud, money laundering or ‘sakawa’ (occult means).
To conclude, beloved, whether in times of plenty (like the old Adam in the glorious garden of Eden) or in times of scarcity (like the new Adam, Jesus, fasting and hungry in the wilderness), temptations may come our way. In all these circumstances, let us not be like the old Adam who succumbed to the desire of the flesh, but like Jesus who submitted to the will of the Father. Let us familiarize ourselves with and live by the will of God which is written in the Bible and taught by the Church. Finally, I pray that by the power of Jesus and the grace of God, we will be victorious over every temptation. Amen!
By Msgr. John Kobina Louis