Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blessed Are Those Who Are Tempted

Readings for Sunday, March 9/ 1st Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

I might think I’m a little crazy when I say this, but I love being tempted. Yes, you heard me right. I love being tempted… because it means that God is doing something. The concept is all over the place in the Scriptures, but the place I found it most concretely was in a book titled The Context of Holiness by Fr. Marc Foley, in which he talks about how it was because of, not in spite of, the temptations and trials of life – the early death of her mother, the departure of two old sisters for the convent, failure to be accepting into the Carmel as a sister, and various difficulties in religious life – that little Therese Martin became Saint Therese and not just Sister Therese, the nun who had no impact on the world. God permits everything that happens to us for some purpose. He has a plan in mind. That’s what we hear all throughout our readings today, most clearly in the Gospel.

St. Matthew tells us, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” There are two important things to note here. First, the devil wasn’t in charge. It was God who drove the Lord out into the desert to be tempted; God has a plan unfolding. The second part ties in with that in that the word ‘tempted’ used here in Greek is ‘peirazein’, which is more properly understood as a testing. A small shift in the meaning of that word helps us understand that Jesus was being tested by the Lord to see whether He was ready for the mission. The idea of a test isn’t foreign to any of us. We’ve all taken them whether as school kids, beginning a new job, or taking on new tasks, we’ve all been tested at some point to test the same thing: are we ready for the task?

The Tempation of Adam & Eve
In our first reading today we heard about the first testing in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. We all know the story mostly, but the problem is that often times we think of what the world has told us about the story. It was all Eve’s fault! Poor Adam was just going about his work when Eve, who had already eaten the fruit, gave him some too. He even says this himself. But the truth is that the primary fault lies not in Eve but in Adam. [That’s right ladies, it really was the man’s fault here.] If we backtrack a bit in the story we see that God created Adam and breathed life into him and set him in the garden to care for it. Tying that story with the other creation account, we see a larger image wherein the man Adam is entrusted with authority over all of creation, including the woman. Obviously this isn’t some sinful authoritarian concept but rather an authority of service, tending to things to make sure they are cared for properly. And the primary task of Adam was to keep Eve and the rest of creation from the snare of the devil. Fast-forward to the scene of the fall and Eve takes the fruit, gives it to Adam, whom the Scriptures tell us “was with her”! He was there all along and failed to care for her as he was supposed to. This is why we can speak truly the words of St. Paul that “through the disobedience of one man (Adam), many were made sinners.”

The good news, though, is that Jesus Christ has come among us to set right what was wrong. The verse continues, “so through the obedience of one (Jesus), the many were made righteous.” Adam failed in his mission to care for the woman and all of humanity that would come forth from her womb. To remedy that we have the Savior, Jesus.

If we read things closely, which we always should, we might feel a bit of déjà vu in the Gospel. There’s a reason. Look again at what Eve experienced when she looked at the tree. She saw that it was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and was desirable for gaining wisdom. St. Paul later described this as the triple lust or triple concupiscence – lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. And this is exactly what Jesus fixes. Look now to the Gospel again. The first temptation is the devil looking at the hungry Jesus saying, ‘You’ve been fasting for all these days, surely you can turn that stone into bread to eat.’ It was good for food. Lust of the flesh, conquered. Next, the devil takes Jesus to the height of the Temple. The Temple was one of the most popular places in Jerusalem, so the devil brings Him and says, ‘All of these people would see you jump and be caught by angels. Think of how many people would realize your power then!’ Desirable to exalt Himself. Pride of life, conquered. Lastly, he takes Jesus to the highest mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms in their magnificence and says, ‘Look how beautiful this is. Surely you could do so much with this!’ It was pleasing to see. Lust of the eyes, conquered.

The Temptation of Christ. Mosaic in St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy.
Where Adam had failed the test before, Christ passed it triumphantly and has brought all of us with Him into the victory. But it’s not as if we have no more worries in this life, that we can just sit here and cruise to heaven. My brothers and sisters, we have been made righteous in God’s eyes, but we are not through being tested. In fact, if you’re not being tested I would say there is a problem. Let me say that again. If you’re not being tested, if you’re not being tempted in some way, there is a big problem because that means you’ve already said no to God and He is isn’t trying to prepare you for what is next in His plan. If we’re not being tested it means the devil is happy with where we are – not taking part in God’s Will. We should count ourselves blessed when we encounter trials, temptations and tests because it means God is working on something. We can trace it back to every person in the Scriptures – Adam & Eve: tested. Noah: tested. Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob: tested. Moses and Joshua: tested. David: tested. All the prophets: tested. Jesus Himself: tested. The 12 Apostles: tested. And a whole army of saints down to today: tested. Where there is a test, there is a purpose and a plan. That’s why St. James tells us to “count it all joy when you encounter various trials.

Whatever penance you’ve taken up this Lent, remember every time you have that little urge to cheat a little here and there, to change it because things are a tough, recognize in that moment that it’s not that the devil is just on your case but rather that it is God permitting that temptation to strengthen you, to test you, to prepare you. Blessed are we when we are tempted, because it is then that we know God is up to something.

For a bit more on this, check out this CD/MP3 from Dr. Brant Pitre HERE.
If you're a visual person, my friend Luke Arrendondo has a handy little chart to make the connections a bit simpler HERE.