Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11
Do you believe in life after death?” the boss asked one of his employees. “Yes, Sir.” the new recruit replied. “Oh, well that’s okay then!” said the boss. “Because after you left early yesterday to go to your grandmother’s funeral, she stopped in to see you!” Temptation to tell lie.
Our First reading today presents to us the story of the first sin, symbolized by the eating of the forbidden fruit. It tells us that Adam and Eve were given the possibility of making a choice. The fundamental choice was to live for God, dependent upon and obedient to His will, or to say no to God. Like Adam and Eve, we are all tempted to put ourselves in God’s place. Consequently, we resent every limit on our freedom, and we don’t want to be held responsible for the consequences of our choices. In Genesis, we witness how temptation to evil led Adam and Eve to an act of faithlessness and sin. In contrast, today’s Gospel from St. Matthew shows us how Jesus Christ conquered temptation by relying on faith in God’s Word and authority.
Jesus’ forty days in the desert, not yielding to sin despite temptation, is our model for overcoming sin during Lent. In the desert Jesus was tempted by Satan to totally wreck his Father’s plan. The three pieces of Scripture that Jesus quoted show him overcoming temptations and submitting to his Father’s plan: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” Jesus submitted to his Father’s will.
We are all too familiar with the phrase: I can resist anything except temptation! There is a Chinese proverb which refers to temptation: You can’t stop birds flying over your head but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair! Temptations are a part of life and we all experience them and we wouldn’t be truly human without them. Perhaps one of the most important lessons of this Gospel account is that it shows that Jesus suffered from temptations just as much as we do.
However, Jesus temptations don’t seem to have much connection with our own temptations today. We are tempted by other things, to indulge our greed, to lust after money, food and sex. We are tempted to give vent to our ambitions and find ourselves stabbing a competitor at work in the back. We find ourselves unable to resist the temptation to gossip about others, we frequently attempt to demonstrate that we have inside information and belong to a privileged “in-group”, thereby putting others down.
There are lots and lots of things that we fall prey to, many, many temptations which come our way each day. And society doesn’t help. All those adverts tell us to indulge ourselves and every TV program presents us with another new life-style to aspire to. It’s not so much Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous as Ground Force and Changing Rooms that we need to worry about.
Someone once said: You can’t stop birds flying over your head but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair. We can’t stop experiencing temptation; it is an ever-present part of the human condition. But we can stop them nesting in our hair; we can refuse to dwell on them. We don’t have to get ourselves into such a state over our desires that we simply must fulfil them. What we need is a sense of perspective we have to see these things as they really are: ordinary desires and fancies not necessarily to be indulged. We are able to train ourselves, we are able to defer gratification, we are able to resist temptation once we have identified it and looked at it from the outside. Yes, we can see the birds, and why not? but we don’t let them nest in our hair.
“This great season of grace is God’s gift to our family to renew us in spirit. Let us ask the Lord to give us strength to purify our hearts, to control our desires, and so to serve Him in freedom.” (Second preface of Lent)