How many times have we seen people who have more money, fame, and popularity than we do? Quite often we give some thought to what we might want to “do” about it. The possibilities can sometimes be quite frightening.
This situation is commonly called temptation. Remember that temptation itself is not a sin, but an opportunity to choose for God or against God. Thus it is, above all, the moment of “choice.”
In the Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent (Luke 4:1-13), Jesus give us an idea of how we could respond to temptation. Precisely, what is Jesus’ reaction? First of all, a little background. “Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, departed from the Jordan…” Two things are crucial: “Holy Spirit,” and “Jordan.” Coming from the “Jordan,” most likely meant the event of Jesus’ baptism. It was at the Baptism that the Father and the Holy Spirit made an appearance with Jesus (Luke 3: 21-22). The word “Spirit” means “creative power” of God, the motivation of support and encouragement.
The image of “desert” was often used in the Old Testament as a place of purification, as it was for the Israelites after crossing the sea. Israel failed during her period of testing, but Jesus did not.
Now, the temptation itself. Basically, it was an attempt for Jesus to use his divine power even though he didn’t have to. If Jesus had chosen to do so, then the devil would have been in charge because he set the terms.
What is important is to note two things. The first is the use of the “if…then” conditionality of each of the three temptations. For example: (1)-“IF you are the son of God, (THEN) command this stone to become bread”; (2)-“IF you worship me, (THEN) I will give you all these belongings”; (3)-“IF you are the son of God, (THEN) throw yourself down, and the angels will save you.” It was obvious that a choice was being offered.
The second item to notice is the fact that Jesus answered every temptation by the use of Scripture. To cite the Scripture correctly, a real knowledge of it is required for the citation to be effective.
How can this Lucan reading help us to deal with temptation? I would like to suggest four items. First, we remember that we are filled with the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, which means that we have God’s “creative spirit” as motivitation for our service to others. Second, we ask ourselves what will be our “desert” as a place of purification, in order to help others. Will it be suffering, the sacrament of reconciliation, or what?
Thirdly, be mindful that each temptation is a choice which makes it an “if-then” challenge. Israel’s covenant at Sinai was posed as an “if…then” choice, for example, “IF you keep my commandments, (THEN) I will be your God” (Exodus 19). Jesus maintains that element of choice as we should. Do we keep the commandments or not? Fourthly, the use of Scripture as a form of support and encouragement. The message and life of Jesus in the Gospels gives us a model, as does the preaching of the prophets.
So it is, that our Baptism, together with having a place of purification, an awareness of the “if…then” dynamic, and a good grasp of Scripture will help us to ward off effectively temptations as they come. This way, we will be able to choose “for” God rather than “against” him. That is how we deal with temptation.