Over the last several weeks, we’ve been hearing from the Sermon on the Mount, you remember: when Jesus preaches the beatitudes, like: blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure of heart, blessed are those who seek righteousness, and those who are peacemakers. We’ve been hearing where blessedness can come from when we accept God’s grace.
And in today’s first reading, we hear the exact opposite: we hear of the origin of sin—from the very generosity of God in giving life and blessing to Adam and Eve, what do they do in response? In the face of temptation, they sinned. Yes, the devil (or serpent) was cunning, inflating God’s command, “Did God really tell you not to eat from ANY of the tress…?” And from that inflation, the sin is compounded when Eve responds, “You shall not eat it OR EVEN TOUCH IT, LEST YOU DIE.’” Funny, God said no such thing. So, in the face of temptation, Eve…and Adam, fall. And bring sin upon all of us by inheritance.
So, what might we take from this during the Lenten Season? I would suggest three things.
First, temptation is not a sin. Christ himself—who is the Son of God and has no sin whatsoever—suffers temptations (as we heard in today’s gospel). He was invited to disobey God’s will, not once, but three separate and distinct times. As His followers, then, we should expect nothing less. We too will experience temptation, but know that when we battle temptations, when we fight them, we can actually grow in our love for God, in our inner strength and perseverance. So, tonight, when I’m tempted to eat black licorice and have my martini, two things I’ve offered up for Lent—that’s not a sin…unless I give in to those temptations!
Second, the devil is real. St. Matthew leaves no room for doubt on this point! The reason the Spirit led Christ into the desert in the first place, he tells us, was “to be tempted by the devil”. Not sure how the devil is present, we are still very sure that the devil is present, stirring up opposition, multiplying difficulties, and putting up plenty of roadblocks. And if Christ was tempted by the devil, there should be no surprise to us when we’re tempted by that same devil.
Third—and most importantly—the devil shows his 3 favorite tricks in our gospel…the same tricks that he continues to play on us according to St. Thomas Aquinas. In order to divert us from God’s path, the devil will appeal to the exact opposites of the beatitudes (those graces we’ve been hearing of in these last weeks):
- The devil says, “Turn these stones into bread”. Today, he might be saying to us, “Turn these stones into jelly donuts”, or “you should have all that brings you pleasure”. But St. Thomas says that the beatitudes congratulate us when we’re not addicted to pleasure, but we’re blessed when pleasing God is our only goal.
- The devil says, “Throw yourself down from the temple…angels will catch you.” To us today, he might say, “do a swan dive from a high point…that will impress onlookers”, thus tugging at our inner desire to be recognized. Yet St. Thomas says that the beatitudes bless us when we seek to give honor to God alone.
- The devil says, “bow down and worship me and I’ll give you everything.” To us today, he might say, “Just do it…it’ll make you rich and powerful.” But St. Thomas Aquinas instructs us: “when we are meek, we inherit the infinite; when we are detached, it is then that we can possess God’s own being.”
My brothers and sisters, we will be tempted, but what is important for us as Disciples of Christ, is how we prepare ourselves for such temptations and then, how we respond to those temptations. In this Lenten Season, we are invited to enter into the desert with Christ, to rely solely on the Lord God’s power and strength and goodness and love. God will help us as we turn to Him. Yes, our desires for wealth, power, pleasure and honor run deep, but to be able to resist them, like Christ did, all we need do is “set our hearts on His kingdom first” (Mt 6:33), and then everything else will fall into place.
May God’s blessings be with us in all our temptations.