HOMILY FOR FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR A
Fr. Gerald M. Musa
WHAT IS TEMPTATION?
There is a wise counsel in Scriptures, which says, “My Son, if thou art ready to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptations” (Ecclesiasticus 2.1). The word temptation is from the Latin tentare, which means to feel or to try. To tempt, therefore, means to persuade or to convince someone to do something unwise or immoral.The story of Adam and Eve and the Story of Jesus gives us a vivid picture of the attraction of temptation. God created Adam and Eve and provided for them all that they needed to make them happy. He gave them only one ground rule – not to touch one of the many trees in the Garden. They could live much more happily with the many other trees and animals which the Lord put at their disposal, but they yielded to the attraction of temptation and found themselves breaking that single ground rule.
Another name for temptation is test or trial. For example, the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land is regarded as a test (Psalm 95:8). More still, the story of Job is one of the perfect examples of how God allows the Devil to test his beloved ones. The Lord allowed the Devil to test Job so that Job can prove his faithfulness to God (Job 1:9-12). In the same way, the devil tests us in different ways, through suffering, sickness, weakness, etc.
THERE IS A CONSTANT BATTLE INSIDE US Temptations are the inner desires deep within our minds, which entice us to do evil. Every act of wrongdoing begins with a thought. There is a constant battle in our minds between the Flesh and the Spirit. When Jesus was praying on the night before he died, the disciples were too weak to join him in prayers and they slept off. When he came to meet them he noticed there was an inner battle going on within them. The battle was between the desire of the body and the longing of the spirit. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch and Pray that you may not fall into temptation; The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Mark 14:38). This is exactly what we experience when we are making progress in our spiritual lives and yet we find some internal forces pulling us downwards. Everyday, we experience some wild and wicked suggestions that cross our minds and we struggle to shrug them off and sometimes we find ourselves doing the things that we would rather not do.
There are times when we find ourselves repeating some bad habits, which we have promised to give up. This is a situation which I like to call ‘Frequently Repeated Falls’ (FRF).The Apostle Paul fell into such dilemma in his life time and he exclaimed in frustration: For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19). We find ourselves struggling to move on but there certain sins, which are keeping us backwards such as anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, hatred, etc.
We must never be discouraged in our efforts to shed off these weaknesses no matter how long it takes. The Scripture says: ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1). We must not be ashamed to look for help and support wherever we can find one, especially through those who have passed through such difficulties or through intensifying our prayer life and meditating over it. An African Proverb says: When a Child falls, he quickly stands and keeps running, but when an elder falls, he looks back to see what has made him fall. We can apply this proverb to our lives as we examine why we are not doing well in certain areas and when we examine the cause of our frequent falls in some certain areas.
THE POWER OF RESISTANCE The story of Adam and Eve shows us the reality of our weakness and our inclination to be disobedient to God. On the contrary, the story of the temptation of Jesus shows us a new Adam who shows us how to be obedient to the will of God and who demonstrates the capacity and power of resistance to temptations (Romans 5.12.17-19). The devil came to Jesus at a very critical point, when he was hungry and offered him bread to eat. In a situation like that, we would naturally expect Jesus to grab the bread and satisfy his hunger. On the contrary, Jesus quoted the Scriptures to remind the devil that ‘A human person must not live by Bread alone, but rather by the word that comes from the mouth of God. This statement is a reminder to us that physical and material pleasures are not really what gives us deep satisfaction and fulfilment, but it is through the hunger and thirst for God that we can find our true fulfilment.
The second temptation was that of acquisition of popularity (celebrity). The devil says, throw yourself down from the parapet of the temple and your name will be recorded in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’. Jesus told him there is more to life than being a celebrity and we must not put the Lord to the test simply because we want some cheap popularity.
The third temptation of Jesus was that of acquisition of power and material things. The devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and its splendour. I will give you these, he said, if you fall at my feet and worship me. At this point, Jesus rebuked him and said ‘Be off Satan! For scripture says, you must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone. There are people who, for the sake of the pursuit of material gain, have abandoned their faith and the Christian values. Jesus constantly reminds us: ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36).
In order to confront the devil like Jesus, we also ought to be cultivate the habit of prayer and fasting in order to build our relationship with God. The Holy season of Lent offers us a special opportunity to make some sacrifice, to share with others and to spend more time on our knees in prayer. A British Poet William Cowper (1731-1800) said: Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Saints upon their knees.
First Sunday of Lent, Year A,
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7;
Romans 5:12. 17-19;