Tongue in cheek, Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist anything . . . except temptation."
Long before these words were uttered, Jesus knew the sad truth about temptation. He was tempted by the devil in the desert. The three temptations of Jesus in the desert, recorded by St. Matthew in chapter four of his gospel, refer to the universal temptations that everyone has to face at one time or another in life, namely the temptations of power, possessions, and privilege.
Jesus rejected the corruption of power by reminding us that it is God, not man, whom we "alone shall serve."
He also exposed the futility of trusting only in possessions or money when he declared that man "does not live on bread alone." And, he who could have everything that this life could offer, rose above the temptation of privilege or fame by insisting that you must "not put the Lord, your God, to the test."
By overcoming all of these temptations, he showed he was not to be bound by attachments to any of them. This is not an easy message, and it should not be sugar-coated in any way.
Ask yourself, here and now:
- Am I controlled by any or all of these temptations?
- Are you attached to money or possessions, for example, even if you don’t possess much of either?
You don’t have to be wealthy to be tempted by money.
Let me explain. I was having coffee at a coffee-shop when a young assistant said to me: “Oh, how I’d love to be wealthy.” Seizing the opportunity to engage him in conversation, I asked, "Why?"
"Well, I could do so much good," he replied, confidently.
"Like what?" I retorted.
"I could help others," he replied, with a self-assured shrug of the shoulders.
"See that little old lady over there?" I said. He nodded. "She could do with some help. Why don’t you start with her?"
"Oh, I didn’t mean it like that," he remonstrated.
"What did you mean?" I responded. He fell silent. "I don’t understand," I continued. "Do you really think you are going to be more helpful to others when you have money than right now when you can go over there and help that little old lady?"
He didn’t know what to say, and the conversation ended.
The struggle against temptation is not for the weak and fickle.
Surely that is why, in the "Lord’s Prayer," Jesus included a petition, "Lead us not into temptation," to help us steer clear of it. Navigating such a steady course is not simple.
We are easily tempted; our heads are easily turned; our attention is easily diverted. We need direction. It is easy to enjoy the luxury of the emotion of helping others when you don’t have to pay the price.
Scripture reminds us how devious are the devices of the evil one.
Jesus’ power to perform miracles and do good captured the attention of the Jewish people and the Jewish leaders. The leaders viewed him as a threat to their power which they were not prepared to relinquish. They embraced that temptation wholeheartedly.
They said he was mad, possessed by the very devil.
Jesus countered their criticisms by labeling them blasphemers against the Holy Spirit.
In other words, these accusers rejected Jesus, not out of human weakness, but out of bad faith. This offense is so serious that Jesus says the perpetrator "has committed an eternal sin," that is, a sin against the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth.
Jesus was also tempted by His relatives who thought he was "out of his mind" and should be rescued by them before it was too late. In answering them, Jesus offered what seems to be a rejection of his family. In fact, he was doing nothing of the sort. Rather, he was expanding his family to include "whoever does the will of God."
Everyone who follows Jesus is a member of his family because ties of faith can be stronger and more beneficial than ties of blood.
Temptation, as can be seen, wears many hats. It can manifest itself in the lust for power, the lure of possessions, and the narcissism of privilege; it can appear in the guise of leaders and fair-weather friends who reject us or mislead us.
Unfortunately, people are not always very particular about whom they follow.
This generation is a generation of people who are far too easily pleased because it tends to follow whoever caters to personal self-interest rather than the common good. The leader or friend who plots the true but difficult course today has few fans and fewer followers.
Today’s scripture warns us about the dangerous temptations that surround us. We are reminded that we need to take careful stock regarding the things and the people in whom we place our trust or choose to follow.
By following Christ, however, we follow the right leader who can free us from temptation.
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, “What is This Thing Called Faith?” is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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