Lent is a call to conversion. The enemy of conversion is sin. I would like to limit to three basic points, my discussion of what leads us to sin.
The first question is: What is temptation? We will come to know what temptation is when we know from whom temptation comes.
Temptations can only come from the devil. His intention in tempting us is to make us stumble. God will never tempt us, God can only test us. The difference is that when the devil tempts us, it is intended to make us bad. When God tests us, it is intended to make us better. When the devil tempts us, it is intended to drive us away from the Lord. When God tests us, He actually invites us to cling to Him during that period of trial.
Temptation can be a responsibility and a burden. Testing from the Lord can actually be a blessing. As gold is tested by fire, so is our Christianity also tested by the Lord.
The Lord’s tests are not to make life more difficult for us, but to make us be better persons. The Lord wants the gold in us to surface by subjecting us to fire.
The Scriptures tell us of ways God tested His followers. Abraham was tested by the Lord. The Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him. When Abraham was about to stab his son, the Lord intervened and said, “I have tested your faith, I am very sure you have passed the test with flying colors.”
It was not a temptation, it was a test intended to make the best in Abraham come out.
The Lord also tested the Jews. For 40 years they wandered in the desert. The Lord did not tempt them into the desert; the Lord tested them in the desert. The Lord wanted the good in them, the love in them, the faith in them to come out even more. As gold is tested by fire, so we are tested so that our faith, so that our love may be truly pure.
Temptations can also be educational. Not that when you give in to temptations you learn something. But that temptations can educate in the sense that you come to know yourself more deeply and intimately.
The second question is: What were the temptations faced by the Lord?
According to the Gospel the Lord was tempted three times. The first temptation was for Him to use His power for His own convenience. The Lord refused to do it. Instead He chose the more difficult way, the way of sacrifice. We, who often opt for the easy eay out, can learn something from temptation of the Lord.
When I speak of temptation, I do not speak only of temptation of the flesh. Temptation can also come in the form of choosing the easy way out. Temptations can also come in the form of telling a lie because you are afraid to be punished or to be humiliated. Temptations can also come in the form of leaning towards the more convenient or the more expedient ways, instead of the moral and proper thing to do.
We can speak of people who abuse their authority for their own convenience. We can speak of people who abuse the goodness and meekness of their fellowmen.
That is the first temptation of Jesus – the temptation to make life comfortable at the expense of others; the temptation to abuse oneself to make life easier and more convenient.
The second is the temptation for power – worldly power, secular power. This is very clear for the Lord who says, “I do not need worldly power because I do not live in this world.” There was once an Indian guru who lived in a small hut without any furnishings. He was visited by a young man aspiring to follow his footsteps. When the young man saw his sparse habitat, he asked the guru the reason for the absence of furnishings in his place. The guru threw back the question to him and the young man quipped that he need not concern himself with furnishings because “I am only a vistor here.” the guru, in turn replied, “So am I.” In our life, we present the same arguments: there is no sex in heaven so we might as well enjoy everything here; we cannot bring our money to heaven, so it might as well be spent here in whatever manner we desire; let us enjoy all the praises here on earth, there might not be any in heaven. These are the temptations of popularity, money and sex.
The third temptation is to ask people to serve you rather than you serving other people; asking the Lord to serve you because vou have been very good; asking the Lord to spare you from sickness because you attend Mass regularly; asking the Lord to make your family and children good and successful because you pray everyday. We are here not because we want to be rewarded. We are here because we want to repay the Lord. When everything has been said and done, we can only say that we are just a useless servant of the Lord. We do not do good because we want to be rewarded, we do good because God has been good to us.
The third question is: How did the Lord face temptation?
The Lord, when tempted, did not argue. He did not use His reasoning; instead the Lord used the Scriptures against the devil.
The way to overcome temptation is not to use psychology, logic, philosophy or even theology. The way to overcome temptation is by atuning yourself always to the Word of God – by prayer. You must pray when you are tempted. You must also pray when you are not tempted. You should pray when you are sick, but you should also pray when you are healthy. You should pray when you are sad, but you should also pray when you are happy. You should pray when you are alive and kicking, but you must also pray at the hour of death.
It is very difficult to face temptations. Let us just speak from experience. It is easier to fall into temptations. Gary Lising said, “The way to get rid of temptations is to do them.” By this he meant that the way to get rid of temptation is to do the sin. Thus we banish temptation by giving in to it.
It is enjoyable to give in to temptation, and it can be very easy. But the Lord never promised us an easy life, only a meaningful life. It might be difficult but with God, all things are possible.
Only Jesus, Always Jesus