DEUT: 26: 4-10, ROMANS 10:8-13, LUKE 4: 1-13
“A woman had bought a new dress which was very expensive. Her husband asked why she had been so extravagant. She replied, “The Devil made me do it.” “Well,” the husband asked, “Why didn’t you say ‘Get thee behind me Satan!'” “I did,” explained the wife, “But he said it looked as good in back as it did in front.” So I bought it.”
Our Gospel on this First Sunday of Lent directs our attention to how our Lord was tempted by the devil. We need to understand first of all 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.
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.
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.
When does Satan tempt us? Matthew 4 records that this temptation of Jesus happened directly after He was baptized. Temptation often happens after a high spiritual experience. Jesus did not eat during those 40 days: Temptations often happen during a time of physical sickness, or when the body is in a weak state or when hungry or tired. Jesus was alone during this time: Temptation often happens when we are alone.
In all three temptations the devil was trying to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission, mainly through a temptation to become the political messiah of Jewish expectations, and to use his divine power to avoid suffering and death.
Often 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. 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. God bless you!