"Scripture has it, 'You shall do homage to the Lord your
God. Him alone shall you adore.'"
The other day I was reading in the newspaper a little filler inserted
into the paper about a person who was celebrating his 100th birthday.
And it is obviously always necessary for a reporter to go out to
somebody who is celebrating his 100th birthday and ask him, "To what
does he attribute his long life?" And this man's response was rather interesting.
He simply said, "I never wanted to waste any time resisting temptation.
There was another writer, an English writer, that said, "I can resist
anything - except temptation." That was Oscar Wilde.
Today we have to talk about temptation because this is what our Gospel
reading is about. And first of all, we have to deal with the idea,
"Is this really something that happened to Jesus?" It is narrated
in Matthew and Mark and Luke that Jesus was led into the desert by
the Spirit. He was tempted. And He defeated Satan. Was it really something
that happened to Jesus? I mean, was he really led to the pinnacle
of the temple and placed there? And said, "Go ahead, jump off." How
could He see all of the kingdoms of the world from a high mountain?
Or was it rather something else that the writers of Scripture had in mind
in giving us this narrative.
We know, for example, and we must never forget that indeed Jesus was
tempted. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: "For we do not have
a high priest who was unable to sympathize with our weakness, but
one who was tempted in every way that we are and, yet, never sinned"
(Heb.4:15). In another place, also in the Letter to the Hebrews, we read,
"Since He was Himself tested through what He suffered, He is able to help
those who are tempted" (Heb. 2.18). And so. He was indeed tempted.
But how do we get a handle on just exactly what this temptation was
We have to begin with the way that Jesus is presented to us in the Gospel.
He is, for us, many different things. And we can attribute to Him
many different titles. Jesus is the New Adam. This is the new creation.
It is as though God was starting all over again with Christ. Jesus
is also the personification of the People of God, Israel. He is the new
Israel; the Church is the new Israel. If we can understand that,
then we can see how today's Gospel event fits with Jesus' being someone
who is entirely new. Jesus did not succumb to His temptations, but
rather defeated the evil one.
When did this happen? It happened right after Jesus' baptism in the
Jordan by John. Then He went to the desert and spent forty days and
forty nights. The parallel with what happened in the Old Testament
is not accidental because, as you remember, the people of Israel,
when they left Egypt, went through the water of the Red Sea and then entered
the wilderness for forty years before they entered the promised land.
For forty days and forty nights, it says, Jesus fasted and prayed;
then He was tempted.
What were these temptations? "You're hungry. Why don't you do something
about it? You've got the power. Feed yourself. Just change these
rocks here into loaves of bread. You've got plenty to eat. Do what
you need to do." The people of Israel had that same kind of temptation
in the desert and they succumbed to it. Remember when they were all sitting
around out there in the wilderness complaining to Moses, "What did you
bring us out into this God-forsaken desert for? I mean, we had it
nice in Egypt. We could sit around our flesh pots and eat bread.
We weren't hungry. What did you bring us out into this wilderness
for?" Moses speaks these words to the people of Israel at that time: "Not
by bread alone are you to live, but by every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God." Another time, as you know, the people of
Israel were tempted sorely to adopt Canaanite practices, erecting
a golden calf, a false god, to worship. They were reminded that they
were not to do this. It was God alone whom they were to worship and adore.
Another time, they were thirsty. Their thirst was quenched by a miracle.
Moses struck the rock and out of the rock flowed water. He had taken
care of their thirst.
The people of Israel who had fallen, who had succumbed to temptation,
are held up to us as an example to contrast with what Jesus did,
because He faced the same temptations. As the new Israel, He defeated
them. The temptation was always this for Jesus, "Why don't you use
this power and take care of yourself?" This was a temptation that would
dog Jesus' footsteps throughout His life. It would have been so easy
for Him to do some of the things that He could do just in order to
make the work a little easier. There is nothing like something spectacular,
"Take a swan dive off the pinnacle of the temple and then you're
saved. You'll have people flocking to you. What an easy way out."
But Jesus said, "No, this is not My way." "If you're hungry, with just
a word, you can do whatever you want." Jesus said in one place, "My
food is to do the will of My Father who sent me. I'm not here to
do My own will."
It would have been so easy. Wasn't He sent here in order to gather all
into one under God? Wouldn't it have been easy to just say, "Well,
maybe we can just take some shortcuts and have this happen." Instead,
He chose to win His kingdom by His blood on the cross. There He would
reign as king. But it could have been so easy for Him. When we hear
about these temptations, when we visualize what Jesus was involved with,
we can see that there is something else here. Jesus is the new Israel.
If Israel had failed in the desert, Jesus is victorious. What has
that really got to do with us? It might be a bit presumptuous to say,
"Well, as Jesus did those things, so can we. But we don't go wrestle with
Satan during Lent, quote Scripture, and beat him." I don't think
that's really what God has in mind. Rather this: if Jesus was tempted
to use His own power for His own sake, that is a temptation that
you and I are faced with all of the time. Do we use the gifts that God
has given us for our own self-aggrandizement or do we use those gifts
for the honour and glory of God?
Recently, there was an article in Time Magazine about secondary education,
about why people go to college. They interviewed 240,000 students
in this survey. Three-fourths of those interviewed said that the
main reason they went to college was to make money. That was the
reason: for self. We think we can look at the decade of the 80s and say
that it was the "me" decade. "The well's there, and, by gosh, there's
not that much water in it and I'm going to get mine". We can point
fingers of blame and all that. It really doesn't do us a whole lot
of good. Rather, what we ought to be able to see is that we can be the
kind of people that can use what God has given us for our own purposes,
for our own selves. Would Jesus say "That's wrong!" to those students
that said, "Well, the reason I'm here in college is to make a lot
of money?" No, I don't think He would. I can wish you all the wealth
in the world. I hope you make more than J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers
combined. I think it's fine, wonderful. More power to you to do that. However,
when it becomes the he-all and end-ail of your life, then you're
succumbing to a temptation that is really unhealthy and destructive.
Wealth, in itself, is not anything evil or bad. It's what we do with
it and how we use it and how we go after it. If we seek wealth and stomp
on somebody else, then it's wrong. Then it's evil. If wealth is used
merely for our own sake and for our own self-gratification, then
it's wrong. But to have wealth is not evil.
We are tempted to say that there is something suspect whenever we perceive
someone who has more than we have. "They must have done something
wrong to have all that. Look at the way they're using their money,
etc. etc." We could think all kinds of things like that and succumb
to a temptation.
How do we use God's gifts? Lent is a season for reordering our priorities.
Who and what is first in our lives? Is Jesus Lord in all things in
our lives? Or are there areas in our lives where Jesus is still not
sovereign? Where He is not Lord? He has to be Lord. We cannot succumb
to the temptation to install oneself as Lord.
Each of us knows where we have to work during Lent, what we have to
do in our own lives. But each of us also knows that when we were
baptized a long time ago, we were baptized not merely to save our
own souls (because if he who seeks to save his life is going to lose
it) but rather we were given that Baptismal life in order to tend and care
for that little patch of this world that is ours, that we do what
is necessary, in that area of our lives, what has to be done in order
that it can be transformed according to the mind and heart of Christ
our Lord. This is the season to look at our lives, to make those judgements,
and decide what we are going to do and how we are going to do it.
"Now is the acceptable time. This is the day of salvation," Paul
writes in his second letter to the Corinthians. This is the time. We
can let Lent slip by and, suddenly, it's Easter. And we can look back and
we say, "you know, nothing really changed this Lent. Nothing really
happened." Wouldn't that be a pity! That we haven't changed and that
we aren't different! That the little world that is our little patch
of this world isn't different because of this Lent! We would have failed
Lent is for change. Lent is for transformation. Lent is to prepare us
for new life, for resurrection. Indeed, is a season of grace. Take
a look at the temptations that face you. Are they the ones that move
you away from God? Are they the ones that say to you, "Use what you've
got for your own self. The rest of the world be hanged." Or is this an
opportunity to say, "God has blessed me with many things. He has
blessed me with gifts and talents. These gifts and talents, I dedicate
to my God, I give back to my God. This is the gift we can offer this
morning in this Eucharistic sacrifice.
Thanks to St. Dunstan's Church and Fr. Sisterman.