Tempted to forget

temptationAnd sin entered the world. In the second reading, St. Paul is pretty clear that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. Did you ever stop to think about what exactly was the first sin? Maybe it is as simple as disobedience. “The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.” (Gen 2:6-7) That seems awfully clear… lots of trees, lots of fruit, help yourself, but not from that one tree. Awfully clear and awfully tempting. We get to listen to Eve’s thoughts as Satan tempts her: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6) I suspect I had many the same thoughts when as a child, I stood before the open refrigerator door staring longingly at the last piece of key lime pie – so good, so pleasing to the eye… and there was mom talking from the next room, “Have a piece of fruit. It’s good for you.” You can guess how that story ends. In my case, it was clearly disobedience, but I am not so sure about Adam and Eve. Continue reading

Testing: hunger

temptation_of_christ1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. 3 The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” 4 He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”

Command these stones… The opening word in v.3 is also validly translated as “since.” Thus, the devil is not attempting to raise doubts in Jesus’ mind, but arguing about what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God. There were expectations that the Messiah would reproduce the miracle of the manna in the desert, thus an overflowing of food and prosperity. Continue reading

Testing: tempted

temptation_of_christAll three synoptic gospels record an incident of Jesus confronting the devil in the wilderness immediately after his baptismal experience at the Jordan River. Where Mark notes quite simply: “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:12-13). Matthew and Luke record a three-part dialogue between Jesus and the devil that is recorded traditionally as a “tempting.” Continue reading

Testing: context

temptation_of_christ1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. 3 The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” 4 He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” 8 Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, 9 and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” 10 At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him. Continue reading

What tempts you?

temptationThe playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote, “I can resist anything except temptation.” The humor of the remark is mixed with a sad recognition that we fail so often to resist the temptations that come our way each day and from every direction. Of course, there are temptations and then there are temptations writ large. What are people’s greatest temptations? Why? What are their “favorite” sins – indicated by frequency and repetition? Why do we so often find ourselves in the same position as St. Paul? “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) During this Lenten season, each of us is called to name our temptations as part of a moral and ethical struggle in trying to live a holy and righteous life. Then once we name that temptation, to begin to unfold and inspect, to then start to answer what it is about this temptation that becomes especially alluring. Such are the first steps to healing. Continue reading

Temptation, Treason, and Good News

When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time (Lk 4:13). Technically, the translation should be that Satan departed from Jesus for a more “favorable time.” In other words, it was not a one-and-that’s-it temptation for Jesus. Satan was coming back for another try.  And if Satan was coming back to tempt Jesus, there is no reason to think that our life will be free of temptation.

The historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. “Captain, give me a gun!” he shouted. “This fight ain’t got any rear!”  The encounter with temptation is no different. Continue reading

Testing: meaning

temptation_of_christThe “Ground” of the Temptations. Before immersing ourselves in the details of the three temptations, perhaps an overview of their OT background would help locate our gospel in context.

  • The First Temptation (4:3-4): If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. The response is from Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” The context in Deuteronomy is that Moses reminds the people of Israel that God tested them in the wilderness by hunger, but he fed them with manna in order to make them understand that one does not live by bread alone.

Continue reading

The desert: context

christ+in+the+wilderness12 At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, 13 and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. 14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Continue reading

Not in our stars, but in ourselves

temptationOur psalm today cries out, “Have mercy on me Lord, for I have sinned.” Maybe a better petition would be, “Have mercy on me Lord, for I am sorely tempted.”  Sin can be but a moment when one gives in, but then one knows the battle is over, but the war is not lost. There is forgiveness and at least the battle is over. Not so with temptation. It was more life the never-ending, deadly trench warfare of World War I: constant struggle, continuous causalities, and wondering “why” and “where are the reinforcements.” It seems as though it never stops. “Have mercy on me Lord, for I am sorely tempted.” Such is temptation. Continue reading

Discipleship’s anchor: the Word of God

Command these stones… Jesus is challenged to show that he qualifies as Messiah by change the stones into loaves of bread. In the Lukan version (Lk 4:3) the challenge is “stone” and “load.” Without entering the argument of whose version is more the original, what is clear is that the stones/loaves are a challenge to satisfy more than just Jesus’ hunger.  Jesus is tempted to use his divine power for his own advantage to accomplish God’s will rather than to trust in his Father’s plan.

After all, the Son of God has no need to be hungry and it is beneath the dignity of such an exalted figure to suffer so. Jesus has the power to satisfy physical need by miraculous means. Later miracles prove this was true (14:15–21; 15:32–38). Jesus recognized in his hunger an experience designed by God to teach him the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” The contrast is paradoxical – God’s word does not fill the stomach, but it is really a question of the ground upon which one is anchored. Continue reading