Temptation is real. It is all around us. It is within us. It hits everyone and spares no one, neither us humans who are made from clay (first reading) nor the Son of God (gospel). Today’s readings present two models in confronting temptation: the Old Adam who succumbs and the New Adam (Jesus) who is victorious.
One lesson we can get from the readings is not to enter into any discussion with the tempter. The devil is a liar, and it is futile to argue with a liar. Moreover, the devil is often smarter than us. Eve entertained the devil, and she was duped. Jesus did not engage with the devil. He simply did two things: he responded with the word of God, and he sent him away.
Here we see that the word of God is a great weapon against temptation. How familiar are we with God’s word? Do we read the scriptures?
Every temptation is a test which demands from me a choice. The choice is fundamentally between God and myself. Whether the temptation comes from the world, the flesh or the devil; whether it is about pleasure, prestige or power, it is ultimately about me. The temptation is about the choice I make between God and myself, between God’s will and my will. It is a choice whether to recognize God as God or to make myself my own god. This was the substance of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden.
The consequence of this choice is revealed in the covenant God made with Israel. “See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God… [I]will bless you. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, you will certainly perish… I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life… by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him.” (Dt 30:15ff)
Every choice in fact is a choice between God and myself, his will and my will. Every act I do is either for God or myself, his glory or my glory, his kingdom or my kingdom. Likewise, every choice is a choice between life and death. To choose God is to choose life. And if I choose God, I must be willing to die to myself.
This may sound scary and hard to do. But this is actually the best proposal ever made to man. To choose God over ourselves is infinitely the better choice and the best thing we can ever do. The choice for God is hard to make when we do not know God who wishes only the best for us and loves us more than we love ourselves. In order to know God better, we need to connect with him and to deny ourselves. Now we understand why prayer and fasting are necessary if we are to overcome temptation. Jesus was victorious in his temptations because he spent his days in the desert praying and fasting.
Prayer connects us to God, while fasting (self-denial) empties our heart of self and makes space for God. With prayer and fasting we grow in our knowledge of God and, more importantly, in our love of him.
I love the medieval prayer which beautifully articulates this dynamic. “Day be day, O dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly day by day.”
When we come to know God and learn to love him, no sacrifice is too great to make, and no temptation is too difficult to resist.
Lately I read an interesting article about the famous actor Liam Nelson (Schindler’s List, Taken…). When he was asked to portray James Bond in the 1995 film Goldeneye, he declined the offer because his would-be wife told him, “If you play James Bond, we’re not getting married.” He was made to choose between Agent 007 (and the attending Bond girls) or her. He had no qualms giving up a most coveted movie role. His love for his wife was much greater than his career.