During Lent we may reflect on our Baptism as a sharing in the life of Jesus. Our growing in the image of God has an aspect of dying to self and another aspect of rising to God's new life of love. The seed of this movement or growth was planted in us when we were first reconciled to God in the grace and sacrament of our rebirth.
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, "You shall not eat from any tree in the garden"?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die."
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)
My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise. (R./)
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned -- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
One way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today's Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are imagined as preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. Saint Paul reflects on how these choices affect ourselves: Adam's sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.
An old priest who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to renew their efforts with these inspirational lines:
"We are not here to play,
to dream, to drift.
We have good work to do,
and loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle.
Face it. 'Tis God's gift."
Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become socially acceptable and politically correct -- is itself an insidious temptation. We want to dictate for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of "acceptable" behaviour, unencumbered by any notional commandments of God. This is rather like Adam demanding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel. Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God's will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is what is best for us.
The story of Jesus' temptations is not to be taken lightly. It's a warning that we can ruin our lives if we stray from the path God wills for us. The first temptation was decisively important. On the surface it is a desire for something innocent and good: why not call on God power to satisfy our hunger. "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread," the tempter says to Jesus. His reply is surprising: "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." We must always seek God's will above all. At every moment we must listen to God's Word, seek God's will.
Since he was alone in the desert, only Jesus himself knew what he felt. The implication of the temptation story is that he had to struggle within himself to find the best way to live his life for God. We ordinary mortals will hardly imagine ourselves turning stones into bread; but in the first temptation Jesus seems to toy with the possibility of providing a limitless supply of bread for people, like the daily dole-out of food by which Roman emperors kept popular with their followers. But Jesus saw how a focus on food and drink can lead to forgetting spiritual values. "Man does not live on bread alone."
Our deepest needs are not met by physical food and drink. Human beings need and yearn for more, for spiritual nurture. To help save other people from hunger and misery, we need to listen to God our Father, who awakens in our conscience a hunger for justice and solidarity.
Perhaps our great temptation today is to "change things into bread", to reduce our desires to what is tangible and consumable. Indiscriminate consumerism is all around us, but it is hardly the way to progress and liberation. A consumerist society leads to emptiness and discontent. Why does the number of suicides keep rising, in apite of our prosperity? Why do we barricade ourselves within gated communities, and build walls and barriers to stop hungry people from sharing our prosperity and disturbing our peace?
Jesus wants us to be aware that human beings do not live on bread alone. We also need to nurture the spirit, know love and friendship, develop solidarity with those who suffer, listen to ouir conscience, open to the ultimate Mystery of sharing, that joins us with God.
Another temptation was to seek fame and celebrity, and indeed, throughout the next few years the people kept asking him for further miracles. What if he were to throw himself from off the pinnacle of the Temple and be unscathed. But this would be just showmanship. He answered, "You must not put the Lord your God to the test!" as a warning not to be rash and superficial. Finally, in the scene on the mountain-top, seeing all the kingdoms of the world, suggests a temptation to become a political messiah, ruling all nations and having power to impose his will on people, like it or not. He dismisses this notion too, since we can be united with God only if we are drawn to it in spirit.
The Temptation story warns us not to let selfishness rule us. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who continues to prompt our conscience each day. We imitate Christ by taking up life's challenges, not with gloomy resignation, but cheerfully accepting what providence sends us. Let the Spirit be a major influence in our lives, so as to bring us closer to the God who made us.