Temptation is a piece of cake!
The First Sunday of Lent. Year A, 2017
“I can overcome everything except temptation” said Oscar Wilde. We understand.
The Chambers Concise Dictionary defines to tempt:
‘To tempt, to try to persuade, especially to do wrong; to entice, to incline.
To attract, to make trial of , test the virtue of (archaic, Bible, literary)’.
Which one of these applies to Jesus? All of them: that’s the nature of temptation: it’s attractive, if it weren’t then we shouldn’t be tempted. It is to be persuaded to do wrong; otherwise if it were to be persuaded to do right, we wouldn’t feel guilty.
A cursory glance at the temptations of Christ is misleading. It’s hard to identify with any of them. How often are we ever tempted to turn stones into bread; or inherit the earth? I don’t suffer from this.
But if we look at the temptations more closely we will see elements that touch our experience too. And I suggest first of all the element of being alone. Jesus went out into the desert and he was alone. Now, when you’re alone you can feel vulnerable, even more so if its dark.
Another dimension we have in common with Christ, I suggest, is the struggle to overcome temptation. Temptation you recall is to try to persuade someone to do wrong. Now we have built into us a sense of what is right and wrong; it’s called our conscience. When we’re tempted our conscience bothers us. There is a struggle inside. We struggle between what we know to be right and doing what we know to be wrong. If it’s any consolation St Paul had the same problem, and failed miserably at times. You see, it’s human to err, even for St Paul. If there was no struggle then we cannot speak of temptation: I have no problems resisting sweets, for example: cos I haven’t got a sweet tooth. Or watching ‘East Enders’; that’s not a temptation for me.
Temptation also causes confusion. This comes more in the first reading with the Serpent Tempting Eve: he puts a doubt in Eve’s mind. Starts her thinking; is it so wrong to eat the apple? When we’re tempted we can often dialogue with ourselves: is it really wrong, maybe my conscience is too sensitive, oh what does it matter anyway, no one will know, oh just this once. But then, part of us will argue, no I’ll feel bad; it’s irresponsible; I mustn’t be weak. When you’re really tempted and want to do something and it looks attractive you can think of reasons why you should, but alone and with your conscience you can also think of reasons why you shouldn’t.
Temptation is something we all experience. It’s a fact of life. It actually shows that we’re alive: the person who’s never tempted is dead. We shall experience temptation until we die; sorry about that! I think it helps to know that we’re all in this together, including myself. And like St Paul we too will fail. We will fall. We will feel bad about ourselves. But don’t stop. When you fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and carry on. Keep trying and God will bless you.