|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.
How and where do I find life? How do I live the life I have been given? These are perennial questions and for our purpose here at this university Newman Center these are the questions that many in our community are being called to take up and begin to wrestle with, perhaps for the first time. The questions can be summarized in our Lord’s invitation to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water…”
This invitation and the questions are daunting and even frightening. There are many voices in our world that continually encourage us to stay on the shore, to ignore the invitation to set out into the deep water. This encouragement comes in a variety of forms: to live a distracted existence focused solely on self and ones own entertainment, to not question too deeply or to only question in an approved manner, to silence ones conscience and only live within the bubble of ones own ego. These voices call to us continually – subtle and not so subtle. They have a surface appeal but in the end they are deadening.
Our Lord invites Simon Peter (and us) to “put out into the deep water” exactly because he knows the depth of being that resides within every man and woman. Christ will not let us sell ourselves short in contrast to the voices that encourage us to stay on the shore. Our Lord knows that deep calls upon deep and that an isolated, self-absorbed existence is an impoverished existence.
Yet, not only does our Lord invite, he also empowers and this is the good news proclaimed for us today. In today’s gospel (Lk. 5:1-11) we find the means given by which we might set out into the deep.
The first is that we are never alone. We are not orphans left to our own devices in a senseless world. There is a creator, there is a purpose for creation and there is a purpose for each of our lives. Not only this but God walks with us. That day, Jesus came to the Lake of Gennesaret – to where Peter, James and John were – and when he instructs them to “put out into the deep water” he is in the boat with them. God never abandons us. As we put out into the deep of our lives we must continually trust that God is with us.
This leads us to the second means given us by God. The Lord’s instruction to Peter to put out into the deep comes after the Lord’s proclamation and teaching to the crowds from the boat. This is not incidental. We have been given the gospels and all the scripture as a means by which to live our lives and to set out into the deep waters and navigate these waters. We must develop the discipline of turning again and again to God’s word, especially the gospels, in order to truly live the life we each have been given.
The final means given us by God in this gospel passage is mercy and forgiveness. Peter’s immediate reaction upon the great catch of fish demonstrates our common human condition, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We all know our weaknesses, we all know our sins and our failings but that does not mean we have to remain in them and we do not have to let them dictate who we can ultimately become. It is worthy to note that Christ does not depart. He remains and in his love and mercy patiently given he offers Peter a different vision for his life, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not deny the forgiveness and mercy of God.
When Simon Peter and the others answered and obeyed the Lord’s invitation and instruction they made a great haul of fish. Here, I will not go down the road of the gospel of success and its error of material blessings for a life of faith. Rather, I interpret the great haul of fish as a life well lived which is abundant in joy, relationships, integrity and love.
“Put out into the deep water” instructs our Lord. Develop the means given and know a life well lived.