“Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:12-13)
Lent is a period of 40 days during which we follow the steps of Christ who spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his public ministry. Even as our first reading today indicates, the 40 days of Lent call to mind the 40-year experience of the Israelites in their journey from the land of captivity to the Promised Land. In this season of Lent, we shall, like the children of Israel strive to journey from the captivity of sin to a deeper walk with God.
Just as every sin begins with a temptation, the struggle against sin begins with the ability to know how to deal with temptations. Hence, on this first Sunday of Lent, our Gospel passage narrates how Jesus succeeded in overcoming temptations in the wilderness. In the three temptations of Jesus Christ, we find the three categories of sins which are: “…the lust of the flesh (turning stones to bread), the lust of the eyes (bowing to Satan to gain the riches of the world) and the pride of life (jumping from the pinnacle of the temple to gain the praise and admiration of all)” (1 John 2:16). Let us now consider the keys to overcoming temptations.
1. Be Alert! Temptations Must Come
The fact that Jesus Christ was tempted goes to show that no one is above temptation. Regardless of your degree of spirituality or your position in the church, you are not beyond temptation. In fact, the holier you become, the more severe your temptations become. When we read the biographies of the Saints, we cannot but realize that those who chose to draw close to God did not find it easy at all, they were often tormented by the devil who saw in them a threat to his agenda of destroying souls.
No one is above temptations. This fact should not frighten you, rather, it should keep you on your toes because you could be tempted at any time. Saint Peter warns: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9). The first victory over any temptation is your ability to know when the devil is trying to make you fall. For instance, when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from the path of the Cross, Jesus immediately sensed that this was a temptation from the devil. Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!”
As much as we must be alert at all times to temptations, we must be particularly careful at those times we resolve to take steps towards growing deeper in holiness. For instance, on the first day of lent, (Ash Wednesday) a lot of us made various resolutions and promises to God for this period of Lent. Some promised God to abstain from meat, from alcohol, from certain forms of entertainment and so on. Some resolved to avoid habitual sins during Lent or to practice certain virtues during these forty days. Having made these resolutions, bear in mind that you are bound to face more temptations in these particular areas.
2. Be Wise! The Devil is Not Your Friend
As a little child, my conception of the devil was that he was a very ugly-looking monster with many heads and horns. I thought he was just a scary beast easy to identify and deal with, but today, I have come to realise that the opposite is very true. One of the skills of the devil is his ability to disguise; to pose as an angel of light, pretending to be on your side like a friend meanwhile, his only agenda is to steal, to kill, and to destroy.
The devil’s chief characteristic is to lie. As Jesus puts it: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). If anyone has ever lied to you before, you would agree with me that you believed it at first. Lies are sometimes more convincing than the truth. When the devil told Eve that by eating the fruit, she would not die and that God was only trying to withhold something good from her, she believed the devil not knowing he wasn’t her friend.
In trying to make Jesus fall, the devil pretended like a friend who came to offer a solution to Jesus’ hunger but Jesus was wise enough to see beyond the lies. The devil even went as far as quoting the Bible, posing as an angel of light. Be careful of that Christian brother or sister who comes to you with the bible but with evil intentions in mind. Not all that glitters is gold. It is not all those who are friendly to you that are your friends.
3. Be Disciplined! Do not live by ‘bread’ alone
The first temptation of Jesus (the lust of the flesh) seemed like a harmless suggestion. ‘You are hungry, just turn these stones to bread and eat.’ It is the same temptation we face when we have legitimate bodily needs (cravings of the flesh) but illegitimate means of satisfying them. Eating food to quench hunger is not a sin but by turning stones into bread, Jesus would be misusing His power. The saying goes that: “power over others is weakness; true power is within – it is the ability to control oneself.” By not turning stones to bread even when He was very hungry, Jesus showed that he was truly powerful.
Saint Paul would say: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24). For instance, the fact that you are attracted to someone is not enough justification to take them to bed. Any act of pre-marital or extra-marital conjugal relation is an offence against God and oneself. As Jesus puts it: “Man shall not live by bread alone but every word that comes from God.” This means that our life does not depend on our ability to satisfy our bodily cravings. Don’t be afraid, you will not die for resisting the urge to sin, but you would die if you choose to disobey God’s word. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:33).
4. Be Content! Do Not Bow to the Devil; He has Nothing to Offer
The second temptation is the lust of the eyes; the quest for riches just for the sake of showing off. In Luke 4:5-7, we read: “The devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you, I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.”
One, the devil is a liar by nature. Two, the whole world and everything in it belongs to God. (Read Psalm 50:10-12). Three, there was never a time that God handed over the world to the devil. Four, just as the devil made Eve believe there was something to gain in eating the forbidden fruit, he was trying to deceive Jesus into thinking there was something to gain by worshiping the devil. This temptation was just a trick. Even if Jesus accepted to worship the devil, there was no guarantee that riches would come to him. Nemo dat quo non habet – no one can give what he does not have.
Unfortunately, many still believe the devil has something to offer them. Our newspaper headlines are besieged by gory stories of ritual killings, secret cult activities, and all sorts of evil in the name of get-rich-quick. If you think the devil can bless you, or that there is something to gain from killing your fellow human being, stealing, lying, defrauding others, etc. you are only being deceived by the devil. Follow God’s word, work hard and riches would follow. As the Psalmist says: “by the labour of your hands, you shall eat and prosper.” (Psalm 128:2). Again Proverbs 10:22 states: “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)
5. Be Humble! Give God His Due and Pray at all Times
The third temptation is the pride of life. The devil tried to offer Jesus a shortcut to glory. By asking Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, the devil was again trying to make Jesus abuse his power and at the same time earn the admiration and praise of people who would see him falling from the sky. Jesus said to the devil: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
The key to overcoming this temptation is constant prayer. Prayer is self-humiliation, it is the ability to recognise our nothingness before God and call on Him at all times. This brings us to our first reading of today. God instructed the people through Moses to offer their first fruits to the priest as a constant reminder of God’s deliverance from the hands of the Egyptians. This practice was to teach them humility so that they never assume that it was by their own power they came to the land flowing with milk and honey.
Bible Study: Deut. 26:4-10, Ps. 91:1-2,10-15, Romans 10:8-13,