Reflection/Homily: First (1st) Sunday of Lent Year A (9 March 2014)
Theme: Dealing with Temptations
There was this little boy who ran to his parish priest in one area of Igbo Land (Nigeria) and said to him, ‘onwunwa na anwam (literally translated temptation is tempting me). The priest wondered what the little boy meant by that and the boy went on to explain how he bought five pigeons to train, four became ill and died simultaneously while the last one flew away. According to the boy, he could not understand why God would allow such a thing happen to him after all the selfless services he renders to God in the Church. Today, we still find many Christians who have the same mind frame like this poor boy. For them, temptation is the worst thing that can happen to them. In fact, they cannot understand why God would allow evil to befall them in the name of temptation or why they should have the desire to do evil. They think that by prayer and good works, they grow above the possibility of being tempted. But we have to understand the exact meaning of temptation before we can conclude we are being tempted.
The Greek noun Peirazein is translated in English as temptation or test depending on the context. When it comes from the devil with the aim of pushing us into sin, it is temptation, but when it comes from God with the aim of knowing how faithful we can be, it becomes a test. The devil tempts us while God tests us. Job was tempted by the devil to ridicule his hope in God while Abraham was tested to offer his only son as a sign of his faith in God. Both temptations and tests are meant to be opportunities to express our unshakable faith in God. The readings of today do not talk about tests but about temptations and they assure us that nobody is above temptation, not even Jesus Christ. In the first reading (Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7), we see the fall of Adam and Eve as a result of the temptation to disobey God. This affirms the point that the devil only tempts us to lose our communion with God. The devil was jealous of the union with God which Adam and Eve enjoyed. That was why he tempted them and as a result of their fall, they lost paradise, embraced suffering and became mortals.
In the gospel reading (Mt. 4:1-11), we also recount the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness after forty days of fasting and prayer. The temptations were what Jesus endured during his public ministry and the Church presents the story to us today to enable us learn how we can be tempted and how we should deal with our temptations. In the first temptation, Jesus was tempted to trust in his ability to provide all that is needed for his ministry and to consider food (bread) more important than doing the will of his father. In his response to the devil; “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”, Jesus teaches us that material things though important are not to be our primary focus in life. There is more to life than just eating, drinking and acquiring wealth. This teaches us to overcome the temptation of placing our priority on food and earthly goods but instead to seek the will of God first and to have trust that God would provide whatever that we need.
In the second temptation, the devil wanted Jesus to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple and thus present himself to the people as a man of signs and wonders. The devil quoted God’s promise to protect His people in times of danger. But Jesus rebukes him with the Scriptures, reminding him of the saying: “Do not put the Lord your God to test” (Deut. 6:16). In his response, Jesus teaches us that though God promises us providential care in the normal course of our lives, He does not promise us supernatural intervention when we willfully expose ourselves to danger. For example, we cannot claim to trust in God’s protection if we knowingly drink poison. In the third temptation, the devil wanted Jesus to worship him in exchange for power over all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus also rebuked him with the words of the scripture saying: “the Lord your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve”. With this, Jesus taught us never to bow down to any force or being in our quest for power, fame, wealth, success, etc.