What is the relationship between temptation and sin? According to E. Schuyler English, “Temptation is to see the tempter standing outside the back door of your heart. Sin is to unlock that door so that he may have his desire. Victory is to open wide the front door of your heart, inviting the Savior to enter and give you strength to bar tight [tightly lock) the back door”
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is still at the beginning of his public ministry. He had just been baptized and he went into the desert to spend some time in prayers and meditation in preparation for the task ahead. Then, the devil came along to tempt him.
At his Baptism, the identity of Jesus was revealed when the voice of the Father came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.” (Luke 3: 22). Having heard this about his identity, Jesus must have felt like, “Hmmm, so I am your Beloved son; please, tell me more, what does that imply?” And so, he went into the desert to have more quiet time with his Father to find out more. The devil then took advantage of Jesus’ quest for more knowledge and came to suggest to Jesus what it means to be the Beloved Son of God.
Just right at the beginning, not long after God the Father spoke at the baptism of Jesus, the devil also came around to speak. Hmmm, that sounds like a familiar pattern. Remember the incident at the beginning, after God had created everything, He placed our first parents (Adam and Eve) in-charge of the Garden of Eden, He commanded them not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. Then the devil came around pretending to have a better option for them. That was an opportunity for Adam and Eve to exercise their great gift of freedom; unfortunately, it was abused. Temptations should give us the opportunity to heroically use our gift of freedom like Jesus and not to abuse it like Adam and Eve.
It is important to note that the devil usually attacks us on our strongest points. Our talents are the usual points through which the devil comes to bring us down. Eve was the best gift that Adam identified of all that God created to keep him company, but she became the channel that the devil used to bring Adam down. Freedom was a special gift from God to humanity, but it became an entrance for the devil. Similarly, as soon as the devil heard Jesus being declared the Beloved Son of God at his baptism, the devil began to plan to bring Jesus down based on that identity (Son of God); and so, he would say to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” He would also go on to say, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” But thanks be to God, Jesus had a better knowledge of his identity and its implications having consulted the original giver of the identity (God the Father), it was therefore impossible for the devil to lead him astray.
The three temptations are calling for the abuse of power and authority. The devil begins by reminding Jesus of his power and authority and then daring him to use them against the plan of God. If you are truly the Son of God, I dare you to command these stones to turn to bread, I dare you to jump from the parapet of the Temple. Since Jesus knew himself, Jesus did not need to prove himself. The things the devil dared Jesus to do were not impossible for Jesus to do. After all, he would multiply loaves of bread to feed the crowd; he would raise the dead to life and would rise from the dead himself, but at this point, he doesn’t need to flex his muscles.
At this beginning of Lent, the temptation of Jesus calls us to examine how we use power and authority. We all have talents, power and authority, and based on these wonderful privileges, the devil comes to dare us: If you are truly the man in the house, I dare you to make significant decisions in your family without consulting your wife; if you are truly more educated than your husband, I dare you to disgrace him in public; if you are truly a strong teenager, I dare you to bully your classmates. If you are the prettiest or the most handsome among your peers, what do you do with your good look? Is the devil daring you to use your good look to dishonor God? Is the devil daring you to use your good look to belittle those that you think are not as handsome or as beautiful as you?
Our temptations come from our strengths. If you know yourself, you don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. Whatever you have been given is meant to build the kingdom of God and never to destroy. When God speaks, the devil comes with a contrary suggestion, and we have been given the power to choose. On this First Sunday of Lent, the Church reminds us of the need to be on our guard every time and everywhere. As St Peter would say in his first letter (5: 8-9) “Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith.”