Temptation of Christ by Eric Armusik

In the Gospel story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness (Lk. 4:1-13) we are given a dramatic portrayal of the movement of temptation in life and also the corrosiveness of sin. 

Luke writes that it was only after Jesus had fasted for forty days and he was in a weakened state that the devil came to tempt him.  This is worthy of note.  Temptation insinuates itself into the folds of our weaknesses and our fragility and it is from there that it seeks to carry out its destructive work.  Do we carry fears within us?  Then grasp for power at all costs!  Are we insecure in our understanding of self?  Then run after the approval of others!  Do we covet?  Then deny the dignity and rights of the other person!  Do we envy?  Then put down the other person!  Do we doubt?  Then shut out the love of God and other persons!

All temptations insinuate themselves into the folds of our weaknesses and frailties.  Part of the spiritual journey is coming to recognize and accept this.  A very holy and honest priest once told me that at one point in his faith journey he came to the realization that he was capable of about every sinful act imaginable.  The truth is, we all are.  We mark ourselves with ashes at the beginning of Lent for a number of reasons – one of these being the recognition and acceptance of our own weakness.  Holiness is not achieved by denying or masking weakness.  Authentic holiness comes about only through accepted weakness being transformed by God’s grace. 

In my own spiritual journey as well as in my experience as a confessor I have come to the awareness that one of the most corrosive effects of sin in our lives is that sin plants a kernel of doubt in our thoughts that can easily and quickly fester into a debilitating and ever-present accusation.  The accusation comes in a variety of voices: “Who do you think you are?”, “If people only knew the real you.”, “How can you believe that you are worth love?”, “Do you think God loves you or even cares?”  Throughout the temptation scene in today’s gospel the devil continually tries to plant this kernel of accusation in the thought of our Lord.  If you are the Son of God…  Yet, Christ does not sin, he does not turn away from the Father and therefore the devil is unable to plant this kernel of doubt and despair.  Christ triumphs over the devil in the desert not by his own strength and self-sufficiency but rather by clinging in obedience to the will and love of the Father and by calling to mind the Word of God and being strengthened by that Word.

The answer to both the insinuation of temptation as well as the corrosiveness of sin is in essence the same – to trust and truly hold to the reality that we are sons and daughters of God and that God is nothing other than love.  God does not disdain us in our weakness.  The truth is that his love and grace are all the more present.  The Christian sense of being perfect is not that we have it all together but rather that we are being perfected in and through our cooperation with God’s love and mercy.  In the face of the accusation of sin we remember that we are indeed loved by God and if we cannot remember then God will remember for us.  I have seen this first-hand as a confessor.  This is one of deep truths of the sacrament of reconciliation.  When we have forgotten who we are through sin, God (in his mercy) remembers for us.  God, in his forgiveness, calls forth the truth that we are his sons and daughters. 

We all know how temptation insinuates itself into our weaknesses and we know how sin accuses us.  This Lent and Easter may we hopefully come to know in a deeper way how God’s love and the truth of our being his sons and daughters sets us free.