The three temptations of Jesus in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed are temptations that Jesus not only faced during the forty days of fasting in the harsh conditions of the desert, but also during His public ministry.
We all know that Jesus fought very hard to overcome these temptations, and at all times succeeded in overcoming the cunning ways of the devil, whose persuasions come from lies and false claims. We as followers of Jesus too are faced with similar temptations at different times of our lives. As such, as we reflect on the meaning of temptations we should also try to sense how each temptations and the lies of the devil can persuade us in the daily living of our Christian faith.
No one is free from temptations. There are many kinds of temptations. In themselves, temptations are not sins. It is only so when we give-in to them. For example, it is not a sin in itself to be tempted to drink a can of beer or to want to buy a $2,500 dress, or drive a Ferrari. Every one of us have our own physical needs and desires, and if you like, temptations in life.
However, if we over indulge in these needs of ours and in the process harm our health, live beyond our means and cause problems to our family and friends and others, then such indulgences become sinful because /their excessive ways are drawing us away from living our lives in God’s ways. More importantly, we can say that such ways of living are distorting the true identity of who we are as Christians. To have a clear identity of who we are in life is not only important, but it is every thing there is to life.
If our identity of who we are in life is distorted and unclear, that is if we do not really know the real meaning and essence of who we are, and if we live by superficial values and are motivated by falsehood, then we may end up living a life that is very painful and confusing, for ourselves, our loved ones and for others.
The whole world knows who Tiger Woods is. He is the greatest golfer of the world and probably of all times. Millions of people have held him up as the model sportsman in golf not only because he could play golf brilliantly, but because he had also portrayed to the world that he was a man who lived the good values of life; a family man, a good husband and father. As such he had hundreds of millions of dollars of advertisement endorsements under his name. Everyone wants to see him play; millions of sportsmen and women, young and old speak of him with great admiration; he has become a model for millions of young and old alike. Unfortunately, some months ago, this great imageof Tiger Woods have crashed into pieces; his private life was exposed by mass media for his extramarital affairs. Millions of his fans were very disappointed and saddened.
The reason why we and millions of people in the world were saddened is because at a deeper level, all of us have a natural desire to live by certain universal values of fidelity, unity in family, peace, truth, love and the like in life. Without these basic values in life, families, communities and relationships, and indeed the human race cannot live together. As such, and rightly so, Tiger Woods, have made a televised public apology to the world especially to his family and fans.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what makes us human beings separate and infinitely different from other creatures and animals that exist is that we have values that we live by. More importantly, what truly makes us different from all creatures and also different from non Christian believers is our true and deepest identity. Unlike others, our faith in God, Our Lord, has revealed to us that we are all His sons and daughters of God the Father.
This being our identity, St Ignatius would remind us that we should each have a clear purpose in our daily living. For this, in his Spiritual Exercises, he would say, that we should first, praise God – because He created and has given us everything that exists in the world. Second, we should also revere God - because He is almighty and infinite, while we are merely finite creatures who are totally dependent on Him for our continued existence in this world. As soon as God removes His power in creation, everything will disintegrate into nothingness; of course our loving God will not do such a thing as He loves us too much. Third, we should rightly serve God – rightly because He is has served us to the point of dying for us and opening the gates of heaven and eternal life for us. Thus, for St Ignatius, if we are able to praise, reverence and serve God daily, then we will be able to reaffirm and relive our deepest identity in life, which is to love God the Father, as His sons and daughters.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is fully human. He too faced the full challenges of the temptations of the devil who tried to distort and turn Him away from His true identity as the Son of God. However, Jesus was very firm and unshakeable in all the temptations because He was very grounded and clear about His identity and His Mission. He knew who He was, what He stood for and why He came into this world.
These three temptations of Jesus are also our temptations in our lives that try to distort our identity and draw us away from God.
The first temptation is to materialism. Materialism make us feel good about what we possess and have in life. This is a distortion because material and financial security are only transitory and passing in this world; they die with our death. Our identity must thus be based on the spiritual truth of God as our Father /and we as His children are assured of eternal happiness, if we are able to live and love as Christ has loved. Materialism in themselves gives us none of these securities that lead us to eternal life; in fact it is largely built on feeling good and the fantasies of life that we will realise on our dying bed, can only offer us empty promises.
The second temptation tries to lure us to compromise our faith in God and for our own selfish gains. Here the devil tries to tempt us to rationalise our faith away by convincing ourselves that actually we can equally gain a high place in heaven, by just living a mediocre Christian life; by just coming to Mass on Sundays. We can indulge in living a secularistic lifestyle and push God into the background of our lives and yet, be totally happy with God; we all know from experiences, that this cannot be so. Yet, the devil continues to lie and tempt us with his persuasive ways; /that it is possible to worship him and also worship God at the same time.
The third temptation draws us to use our gifts and blessings from God for our self-glory and pride. Here the devil makes us feel that we can glorify ourselves through our secular ways of living and under the guise of serving God. However, the truth that Jesus preached and lived is that our true Christian identity can only be lived, if and only if we are able to love Him wholeheartedly, and love Him and follow the path of the Cross that He has shown us. We can only inherit the gift of eternal happiness when we first embrace the Crown of the Cross of Christ.
In “The Wizard of Oz,” Glenda, the good witch from the South appeared to Dorothy who was lost and looking for a home and for love in her life. “Dorothy,” Glenda said, “You will find what you are looking for inside you.” Dorothy was very puzzled and said, “I’m looking for a home and for love.” Is home inside me?” “Yes, my child.” Glenda said, “Home is not a place where you live and sleep. Home is wisdom and knowing – knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home everywhere.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are clear about out true identity, we will surely be at peace with ourselves, others and with life. Our only way of fighting all our temptations and overcoming them in our daily living is to discover and renew our true Christian identity and live it to the full.
Once we are able to find and believe wholeheartedly that we are sons and daughters of God and are able to learn how to praise Him, revere Him and serve Him, everything in our life will fall into place. The devil and all his cunning ways will never be convincing . . . as we know that our strength comes from Him.
Jesus entered into the desert, filled with the Holy Spirit and was tested to the full not only for forty days, but throughout His public ministry . . . which led him to the Crucifixion. . .
As we begin Lent, let us pray that God will also give us the graces we need to persevere not only in the forty days of Lent to over come temptations in our lives, but also to learn to praise, revere and serve Him more fully, so that nothing in this world can draw us away from Him, and nothing can confuse our true identity in life.
If we are able to live in this way during Lent, our Lenten season will be the most fulfilling and meaningful celebration: and our Easter celebrations would surely be the happiest and the deepest joys of our lives.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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