First Sunday of Lent - Year C
By Fr. Ron
What do you think of when you hear the word temptation?
If you go to the dictionary, you will find this definition: being enticed to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain; a feeling that you want to do something even though you know it is wrong.
We all experience temptation. It might be to cheat on an exam or take what doesn’t belong to us. We may be tempted to say or do hurtful things to others or to lie about someone or something. Some people may be tempted to engaged in sexual activity with someone other than a spouse. Leaders might be tempted to abuse the power that they have. There are many other things we know are wrong. That’s the key: we know they are wrong.
Temptations can also be an enticement to not doing something we know we should do. I might be tempted to walk by a person in need. I may be tempted to not take the time to pray or to skip Sunday Mass. I might be tempted to think only of myself and not of the needs of others. I may not want to share some of my time, money and talents with others. I might even be tempted to stop trusting in God.
Temptations are not sins. Temptation is what happens before we sin. Sin is giving in to the temptation. Sin is a choice we make. We always have a choice. And we are responsible for our choices.
For example, I might be in a situation where it would be convenient to lie. If I tell the truth, I would be in trouble. It’s tempting to lie to save my own skin. Can I resist the temptation? Of course I can! But not simply by my own efforts, but with God’s help.
Another example: a boyfriend and girlfriend are becoming close. She is afraid she might lose him if she does not have sex with him. She knows it is wrong. What can she do? She can discuss her feelings with her boyfriend. If he loves her, he will respect her beliefs. She can ask God for help and guidance. She can speak to friends who will help her be strong. She has choices and she can resist the temptation.
One more example: let’s say you receive a big inheritance from a relative. You think of all kinds of things you can buy with this money. You also know that a cousin is struggling to pay his tuition bill. You also think about a homeless shelter that you recently visited. You have to decide if you will share some of the money or keep it all for yourself. The choice of using it only for your needs is selfish. That is a temptation. Once again, you can consult God and other people to help you decide what to do, but the choice is yours.
In every case, temptation is the lure to make the wrong choice. It usually means thinking only about our own pleasure. For most of us, it means ignoring what we know is the right choice. We have to push God aside. We ignore the values and beliefs we have learned in our religion. We turn away from God’s ways.
Jesus was a human being just like us. He experienced joy and sadness, satisfaction and disappointment. He experienced all the emotions we do. In today’s gospel we are told he also experienced temptation. His temptations were real. He was not pretending. Not only were his temptations real, but they were much bigger than the temptations you and I experience. But he too had to make a choice.
Where did Jesus get the strength to make the right choice?
First, we were told that he was in prayer for forty days. He had a close relationship with his Father in heaven. He drew strength from this relationship. If we have a close relationship with God, it will be easier for us to make the right choices too. That is why prayer can also help us resist temptation.
Second, in each instance Jesus turned to the Word of God in the Bible. If we are familiar with God’s Word, if we take time to read the Bible and reflect on its message, it will also be a source of strength for us. We will know what is right and wrong. We will be more familiar with God’s commandments, especially the command to love God and one another.
Finally, in each temptation, Jesus rebuffs the devil. He pushes him away. He doesn’t linger or remain near the evil one. We too need to remove ourselves from temptations. They will be a part of our lives, but we should not dwell on them. Push them aside and move on. Divert your attention to other things. God will help you resist temptation, but we also have to do our part.
Every time we pray the Our Father, we say: “Lead us not unto temptation” or in another translation: “Do not bring us to the test.”
In other words, we are asking God not to allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. St. Paul tells us: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Corinthians 10:13]
God will always be there to help us in times of temptation. God will give us the grace we need. We have to take it and use it to make good choices.