Sunday in Lent
Fr. David Curry
Christ Church Windsor NS, AD
“One who in every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sin”
To be tempted (root, πειιράω)
and to be pierced (root, πείρω) are related words. The
temptations which belong to the beginning of Lent have a connection to the
end of Lent in the crucifixion of Christ. He who is pierced for us
is tempted for us. The overcoming of temptation belongs equally to
the overcoming of his being pierced, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The cross and the resurrection are obliquely, yet strongly, present in the
temptations of Christ. There is a resurrection into the presence of
the living Word and Spirit of the Father, but only through the burning love
of the crucified, a love which is already signaled in the temptations of
To be tempted is to be drawn to
what we know to be wrong and false. This implies as well that we are
drawn away from what we know to be right and true. Our reason is
beguiled; our will is seduced. We are at once deceivers and deceived.
Temptations are received in the
soul. It is there that they have their force of attraction, drawing us
to what we know in some sense we should refuse. But there is always a
choice, a crucial moment of decision, whether to give in or withstand.
The problem is not that there are temptations - these there must be - but
how we face them. Sin, after all, does not lie in the temptations
themselves, but in our yielding to them, whether inwardly in our thoughts or
outwardly in our deeds. Temptations belong to the path of our
spiritual journey to God and with God. They are, we might even say,
necessary to the perfecting of our wills, to the matter of setting love in
The temptations of Christ are our
temptations. His will to bear them belongs to the divine will to redeem and
perfect his sinful creation. To that end, the temptations of
Christ illumine what is right and true and expose to view what is false and
They clarify the meaning of all
and every temptation. There is no temptation which does not fall under
one or other of the temptations of Christ. Thus, our understanding is
clarified. Beyond that our wills are fortified, too. The
temptations of Christ sanctify our temptations. They are made part and
parcel of the way of perfecting grace. By virtue of Christ’s
temptations, we are inwardly strengthened in resisting, even as the force of
the temptations themselves is abated, because we can see them in Christ for
what they are and how they can be overcome.
This has important consequences
for the practice of our lives in faith. It requires in us a spirit
of compassion and it instills in us a spirit of confidence.
Compassion - because the compassion of Christ towards us in knowing
our temptations requires us to be compassionate towards others. It is
only too easy to stand in judgment over someone else whose temptations are
not your own. Yet he who bears your temptations equally bears his as
well. This demands our compassion towards the failings of others. Confidence
- because we are not alone in confronting our temptations. Christ is
our co-worker in overcoming the temptations which befall us.
This goes a long ways towards
answering another difficulty. Jesus is said to be “led up by the
Spirit... to be tempted.” But in the Lord’s Prayer, we say
“Lead us not into temptation.” What are we to make of these senses of
leading? Well, the one is about leading so as to be with us.
The other speaks about a leading into temptation that is a forsaking, a
withdrawing of grace; in short, our being without his presence.
Then, indeed, we are lost.
The temptations of Christ are our
temptations. What are they? They are three, though in the end,
they all come down to one thing: the denial of God. The three
categories of temptation only vary in the degree to which God is denied.
The three temptations are: the temptation to distrust; the
temptation to presumption; the temptation to defiance and denial.
There is no temptation common to man that is not comprehended in these
“If thou be the Son of God,
command that these stones be made bread.” This is the temptation
to distrust because it suggests to our minds that God will not provide for
us, therefore we must shift for ourselves by way of whatever means, even
unlawful means, turning stones into bread, which is to say, subverting the
order of things in creation to our own immediate ends. The temptation
is to distrust God’s power and goodness. It is the false fear that God
will not provide. The Old Testament form of this is the temptation in
the wilderness (recalled in the Venite), “the temptation of
Meribah” - the hungry temptation - when the people of Israel murmured
against God’s provision for them in the wilderness, the provision of manna -
bread from heaven.
They denied, in effect, the will
of God for them as signaled in his Word. At issue is what God provides
for us in the way of our journeying. What he provides is always
sufficient for us. This temptation is about our fear that it is not.
We deny God by murmuring against his will and by neglecting the ordained
means of heavenly grace by which he would sustain us; in short, the Word and
Sacraments of Christ.
The second temptation is the
temptation to presumption. “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself
down.” This temptation goes to the other extreme. If the
first was a lack of confidence in God’s will for us, this is an
overconfidence, an improper expectation, a false hope in the will of God,
which drives us away from the lawful use of created things and the ordained
means of grace, and drives us towards unnecessary, luxurious and
presumptuous means. It is the presumption of thinking that everything
will be alright for me whatever I do. I’m saved, I can do anything and
I’ll demand everything because God is answerable to me. It is to
presume to fly instead of using the stairs.
The Old Testament form of this is
“the temptation of Massah” when the people of Israel were
dissatisfied with what God had provided for them and demanded something
better, like the luxuries of Egypt. They wanted the salad bar and
surf’n turf! This temptation presumes upon our standing with God to
deny the ordained means of his will for us. It would, moreover, put
God to the test for the sake of our amusement and entertainment. If
the first denies the Creator in the provisions for his creation, the second
denies the form of our creatureliness and the nature of our relation to the
The third temptation is the
“greatest” of these three. It makes explicit what is hidden in
them. It is the temptation to defiance and denial. It is the
temptation to put oneself in the place of God. “All these things
will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me”, says the devil
to Jesus. It is the grand illusion, the ultimate refusal of the
creature’s relation to the Creator. Such is the devil himself in the
nakedness of his pride and folly. The devil, Satan, the tempter - all
these titles are present here - would substitute himself for God, denying
both God and himself. The prince of this world is indeed the prince of
lies. He is the very principle of the soul’s defiance and denial of
The temptations of Christ
represent and replay the Fall. Adam and Eve are tempted by what is
pleasing to the senses and thus are drawn to distrust the provisions which
God has made for them which they know to be good. They are tempted to
presume that by eating “the forbidden fruit” they will become like
God. They are tempted to deny God altogether and to defy his will.
In short, they succumb to the beguiling wiles of the serpent, the tempter,
the one who insinuates doubts about God and his will for his creatures.
But in Christ the temptations are
overcome and they are overcome for us. There is a counter to each of
the temptations. The clarifying Word of God dispels the clouds of
distrust, presumption, and denial:
Man shall not live by bread
alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God...; Thou
shalt not tempt the Lord thy God...; Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,
and him only shalt thou serve.
The last of
these, too, is the greatest. All ends in worship and loving service.
Christ proclaims his word written. It is the counter to all and every
temptation. To hear his word is to arise into the presence of the
living Word and Spirit of the Father, but only through the “One who in
every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”