14 February 2016
A young Irishwoman I know had a very good job with a large company. She decided to leave the company and go to Ethiopia, a country suffering from severe famine. She said she felt the call of God to work with these unfortunate people. She wanted to be in solidarity with them. It meant leaving her home, family, country to risk all to be with these people. Of course her family and friends thought she was crazy and tried to get her to change her mind but she was determined to go. When she got there she had to live a very difficult lifestyle. Little clean water, at times not enough to eat. Several times she was tempted to return home and live the much easier and enjoyable life she was used to. But she stayed and was faithful to her commitment despite all the hardships involved.
This young woman reminds me very much of the gospel today. Jesus too left heaven and all that involved to be with us. He decided to enter into solidarity with us. He chose to take on a very difficult lifestyle. It meant depriving himself of all the comforts and happiness he could have had whilst on earth if he acted out of his power as God. But as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Philippians, ‘Jesus emptied himself to take on the condition of a servant and being as all humans are, he emptied himself even more, even accepting death on a cross.’
In today’s Gospel Jesus is tempted just as we are, even though he was filled with the Spirit. The devil comes and tempts him in three ways; the same ways men and women are always tempted. First, the devil tempted Jesus and us too to quench our senses and be filled sensually as if this will make us happy – the temptation to drugs, sex, drink, maybe pornography etc. Secondly the devil tries to seduce Jesus and us by the idea of having power over others. Here it can be political power, ecclesiastical power, employer power, parent power, teacher power etc. Thirdly, the devil entices us to take God’s love and faithfulness for granted and to test his merciful love and protection.
Ultimately the devil is trying to make Jesus forget he is, as a human being like us, totally dependent on his father to care for him. He is tempted to act from a power stance and not from the will of God. The devil tries to tempt Jesus to cheat on his humanity and satisfy his hunger and to use his power to deny his Incarnation – that he really human and will not call on God power when the going gets tough. Just as the young woman in the story was tempted to go back to an easier way of life when life in Ethiopia was very tough, Jesus is being tempted not to accept fully his human condition and all the limitation that that involves. He wants to be in total solidarity with us, allowing himself to be tempted as we are and struggling to overcome the temptation, not to seek a quick fix. This was especially so in the Garden of Gethsemene when he was tempted not to go though with his Passion and death because he foresaw the terrible suffering and rejection it would involve.
What the devil is tempting Jesus to do is to take the road of instant gratification, a short-cut to immediate satisfaction. Jesus knew that this does not usually lead to long term peace and joy.
We must remember too that Jesus never worked a miracle for himself. It was always for the sake of others. Jesus is tempted to go beyond human limitation and use his divinity to make his life easier.
In the first reading the Israelites are encouraged to remember how God brought them out of Egypt and freed them from oppression. But it took time and they had much suffering before they eventually escaped. The gospel tells us that it is a great temptation to forget we are God’s children, that he cares for us. We can be tempted especially in time of prosperity to forget God and act as if we don’t need God. Jesus was always very much aware of being a child of his heavenly Father and it was his constant awareness of that reality that determined how he would live his life.
The example of the gospel is clear: in his life Jesus proclaimed the primacy of God and his kingdom. We cannot use our gifts and talents for our own personal prestige or to dominate others politically, materially or spiritually. The attitude of Jesus must be our own and that of the Church. Its message and its power are not to serve itself but to serve God and his chosen ones, the poor.
As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage let us remember that Lent is not an end in itself, it leads by way of the cross to the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus and to his sending us the Holy Spirit. Rather than asking what we should give up for Lent maybe better ask what temptation we should not give into. The Good News is that Jesus knows from his own personal experience what it is to be tempted and the struggle to overcome temptation. He will not abandon us no matter how often we fail as long as we keep on trying relying on his Holy Spirit for help.
“Lord Jesus, it is never easy to overcome temptation. Help us not to rely on ourselves but to pray often for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us. Amen.”
Fr Jim Kirstein, SMA