Lent has only begun and already I feel the temptation to break with my Lenten promise. I shouldn’t be surprised really, my whole life I’ve noticed that the more I deny myself of something, the more desirous for it I become.
Perhaps I should cave in to temptation. I’m only human after all, and these are human inclinations I’m feeling. The world tells me that to not succumb to my human nature would make me less than human – or at least incomplete in who I am as a human.
Christ tells us the contrary – that by not giving into our temptations, we become elevated above humanity. By not giving into our temptations, we are bringing ourselves closer to reunification with God.
Jesus knew all about temptation and how succumbing to it would lead us away from the Father instead of towards the greatness he intended for us:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. (Lk 4:1-2a)
What we tend to forget in this well-known story of the temptation of Christ is that Jesus was not only divine, but he was also completely human in nature as well. Although his divinity gave Christ the fortitude to overcome temptation, his humanity suffered from it. When the devil tempted Christ during those forty days, his human flesh was just as tormented as yours and mine during this Lenten season.
He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’” (Lk 4:2b-4)
Here Christ is tempted, like we are, to fulfil our materialistic desires – to become a Messiah of earthly things. For most of us who live in the comfort of western society, we’re no longer tempted by hunger, except to excess, yet we still hunger for material things. Once one desire has been met, we quickly move on to long for the next great thing that promises us happiness. Like Christ, by saying no to all our materialistic whims and fancies, we acknowledge that our existence isn’t about this world, but the next. That we must prepare of hearts not for the bread of this world, but for the bread of eternal life. As Damian Goddard so profoundly stated: He who refused to turn stones into bread, rolled away the stone to become our bread.
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, and it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Lk 4:5-8)
Wouldn’t life be easier if we had power and authority over others? Wouldn’t it be grand if we could have others be at our beck and call? Sure, but at what cost? How many others must we step on to climb the ladder of success? With great authority comes even greater responsibility – can we handle that in our human frailty? How many times have we heard someone in a position of authority bemoan that life was so much easier when they were a simple servant? Did Christ not show us by washing the feet of the Apostles that the path to greatness is through servitude? When confronted by Pilate’s statement of authority, did Christ not calmly rebuke him by explaining that all earthly power is given because the Father has willed it?
We need to remember that Christ is not an earthly Messiah, come to liberate us from the political ties that bind us. Christ’s authority is far greater than our earthly realm, and if we are called to an allegiance to our earthly leaders, how much greater should our allegiance to the source of their power be? When pride calls us to search out a position of authority, we need to be like Christ and humble ourselves to a role of servitude.
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his Angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Lk 4:9-12)
In our cynical age seeing is believing. If it can’t be proven through modern science or if we don’t see it with our very eyes, we call into veracity the matter at hand. How foolhardy we are, though, in that we ignore Christ’s 2000 year-old teaching to St. Thomas: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (Jn 20:29)
Keep this in mind when the sceptics tell you that it’s humanly impossible for anybody to keep their Lenten observance. You don’t need to prove it to them by announcing your Lenten promise to them, rather cherish your belief in Christ with the inward, silent knowledge that it is possible. Know that by turning away from temptation, you are not turning away from your humanity, but rather turning your humanity towards God.