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The Third Sunday in Lent

excerpt from
COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 2: Septuagesima to Easter Eve (pp. 72, 73)
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
In the Epistle appointed for the Second Sunday in Lent, we read about the lust of the flesh, the first kind of temptation our Lord experienced in the wilderness.  With this week's lessons, we begin a consideration of the second kind of temptation, the one John calls the lust of the eyes' (I John 2:16).  This may sound like a strange phrase, but as we examine it, we begin to understand why it is used to describe this second temptation, the temptation to test God.

We all know that the five senses of the body can be tempted to indulge in sensual pleasures beyond the limits of prudence.  This is the lust of the flesh.  However, there is a more subtle, intellectual temptation that also enters by way of the senses since all our knowledge of the world around us comes through the senses and what they perceive.  The senses provide the information with which our minds can work.

The knowledge we thus receive by our experience of nature is not a bad thing in itself.  All natural science and technology is based upon it, but the desire for such knowledge can get out of control, giving rise to a useless and empty curiosity not only about created things, but also about the Creator himself.  Since sight is the highest of the senses, we express our understanding of things, no matter how it comes to us, by saying, I see.  Thus the imprudent and impious desire for experimental knowledge is called the lust of the eyes.

This is the temptation our Lord faced when the devil told him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.  If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down (Matt. 4:6).  If you are the son of God, demonstrate it by this experiment.  Prove it, so that all can perceive it with their own eyes.  Show a sign, so that all may see.  But Jesus' only answer is Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matt. 4:7)  You shall not test God, for your relationship to him is one of faith.

In today's Gospel, we see this same temptation proposed to our Lord.  But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebul, the prince of the devils; and others tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven' (Luke 11:15-16).  Yet as our Lord pointed out, the truth is plain to see.  Beelzebul will not work against himself.  His followers can only be cast out by the finger of God, the power of the Holy Spirit.  With the truth as plain to see as that, the only proper response is a glad and willing faith in all that God has revealed to us of himself.  The soul which has been led astray by the lust of the eyes' is unable to see and understand the truth which is shown to it.

The people of the present day are at least as subject to the lust of the eyes as to the lust of the flesh.  Our most characteristic activity is an idle manipulation of nature, which has divulged the secrets of creation and procreation in an impious and dangerous way.  And as we seek to become like gods in relation to creation, we exchange the true creator of all for a host of false philosophies and religions.

Thank God, we have been delivered from this mental darkness, and have become the children of light (see Eph. 5:8 and Rom 1:21).  However, we must be sure that our minds are full of faith, or else the devil which has been cast out will return with seven other spirits more wicked than himself and our last state will be worse than the first.