In my homily last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), I said to some of the children at our parish primary school that one way to observe lent is to give up something that we love doing such as eating lollies or chocolates, or watching TV, or playing video games. And this is to be done not for our own sake but in solidarity with the many children in the world who have less or even no way to watch TV because they don’t have any, or simply because they have no money to buy lollies or chocolates. I was almost caught up with my own word when after the mass, one girl told me she wouldn’t want to get back to school until playtime. I said to her: ‘Remember my homily? I said ‘you give up something that you love.’ And she readily protested: ‘But I love school!’ I could have said to her: ‘You must not give up going to school otherwise your parents would have to pay a fine of $70.
We who are here today, let us ask ourselves: How do we take this season of lent to heart?
Traditionally we observe lent in three ways: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Let us still keep up with these ways because these express a deeper motivation and a deeper reality. These express our inner self (fasting through denying oneself of some cravings), our relationship with God (prayer) and our relationship with one another (almsgiving). But perhaps many of us are working on what is the particular thing or action that we like or we love doing and which we desire to give up at least this holy season of lent. I heard some have given up sweets, soft drinks or wine. They are good resolutions but a big challenge too, because the temptation is great, very attractive and is always before us. No wonder Oscar Wilde, in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” Or as one priest jokingly said: “Temptation resisted is temptation wasted.”
If we are serious in our resolve then, let us take the Lord’s prayer seriously when we pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’
In saying this, we are praying that we wouldn’t give in to temptation and not give up with our good resolutions. But how can this be possible?
Jesus in our gospel today would tell us that this is in fact possible, within our reach, within our grasp and even within us. We heard in today’s gospel Jesus was tempted by the devil after 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert. His temptation is meant to show us that he completely identifies with our humanity. “For we do not have a high priest”, says the Letter to the Hebrews, “who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin”( Heb 4:15 ). He was tempted in every way, that is in all levels of his being truly human. But he didn’t give into temptation because he didn’t give up his being ‘Son of the Father’ (his true self) and because he remained to himself and to his mission.
If we follow the gospel slowly, we can reflect four levels of temptation that Jesus had to face.
First is on the personal level. ‘If you are Son of God’, says the tempter. We remember on Jesus baptism, he was confirmed as the ‘beloved Son of the Father.’ Now, the evil one is trying to get personal on him. Yet, Jesus didn’t give in. He stood up his ground that He is anointed by His Father and filled with the Spirit of God to proclaim the message of the Kingdom. And this helped him to stand firm no matter how personally attacked he was. This is also a lesson for us. Some people might challenge us personally especially if they know we are believers of Christ. Mahatma Gandhi would be one challenger when he declared: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So it’s a call for us to stand up for our faith and be really one in Christ and like Christ.
Second is on the physical level. Jesus was hungry and weak after 40 days of fasting and prayer. The devil challenged him to produce a fast food. Yet, he didn’t give in. Instead he stood firm and declared there is more to life than just longing for food. ‘Man does not live on bread alone,’ he said, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Mt 4:4).
Third is on the intellectual level. The devil offered him power and glory over the kingdoms of the world. The devil persuaded Jesus to take control of his life and of his mission. The evil one asked him to forget who he was representing to and by whom he was sent into the world. The condition was that he would ‘worship’ the devil. Again Jesus remained on his ground that ‘worship’ is reserved to Creator only and not to the creatures. In our time, what are the things or people we unwittingly ‘worship’? Like Jesus, we must not forget that we are here because of God who created us, who loved us, who cared for us and who has reserved a place for us in his Kingdom.
Fourth is on the spiritual level. Jesus was tempted to jump from the parapet of the temple down below and put God to the test. Here the devil tricked Jesus on his level. Because Jesus had been using scriptural texts to prove his ground, the devil also used a passage in the scripture about the angels of God protecting him from harm if he jumped off. How can this be a way of testing God? Sometimes in life, we tend to bargain with God. We make promises that we would do this or that if only God listened to us, or answered our prayers or come to our rescue. Sometimes we just wanted the easy way out and the quick-fix God. This is a challenging thing because the devil always takes advantage of this opportunity. But Jesus is showing us today how to deal with it. He remained trusting in God and obedient to his word. He didn’t listen to the beautiful words of the tempter, no matter how assuring it might seem and how sweet it sounds.
Jesus didn’t give in to the temptation because he didn’t give up his resolution to be true to himself and to his mission from the Father. Like Jesus we wouldn’t be led into temptation and we would be delivered from all evil if we are obedient to the word of God, if we persevere in our prayer, if we deny ourselves in fasting and if we reach out to others in almsgiving. Let this be our hope and our prayer for this season of lent.