In today’s readings, we see the actions and the results of the devil at work. Often, he uses our desires against us, twisting them in a way that makes us lose trust in God.
Before the fall, our use of reason kept our desires and passions in control, used properly. Desire itself is not a bad thing, it’s a search toward something that we believe will be good and satisfying to us. To eat, sleep, experience pleasures, are good things. Reason helps to properly order and moderate such desires, as to not create harm to ourselves and others. And God gave directives on how to do this. But then came the temptation, to decide for oneself what is right and wrong.
After the fall, we are more ruled by desire and emotion, and things are often pursued in a disordered fashion. And often, at the expense of others. And the worst result of it, is that we often seek solutions outside of God, because we try to be him. And in the history of humanity, we have demonstrated that we are quite terrible at determining things for ourselves, because we can never agree with each other, and people are harmed as a result.
All lies that lead to sin, all temptation comes down to this point. That somehow, God is holding back on you, that you’re missing something that you need, that God is unable to provide. That’s the lie of the devil.
He tricks you to gain something, but that gain will only lead to loss. Remember the ashes. All physical things turn to dust. Whatever the devil promises to give, he will also take away. In the garden, the devil promised Adam and Eve pleasure, wisdom and continued life, things they already had, they lacked nothing. Yet there were deceived to think they lacked; so instead they received pain, shame, and death.
So that’s the reality we find ourselves in. But thankfully, Jesus came to save us from that fate, to defend against temptation, to be free of sin, to be back on the right track. And we see this in his own temptations found in today’s gospel.
For Jesus, there has been much written over the centuries about his temptations, what the devil’s purpose for them were, what was their significance, and so on. I like to look at it this way. Jesus’ ultimate mission is to reverse the effects of the Fall; for the forgiveness of sins, restoration to eternal life, and repair human relationships. And Jesus is to do this through leading by example. To show love, to show charity, and to even except suffering and death upon the cross.
The devil tempts Jesus by trying to get him to use his power for merely earthly purposes, to show off his power, to take the easy route. “Turn these stones into bread. Jump from the Temple and let the people see you be rescued. All these nations will be yours to rule.” But as Jesus says, there is more to living than just a full stomach, but to be filled with grace and the life of God. Jesus is not going to draw people to himself by demonstrating power, but demonstrating charity and humility and love. Jesus’ kingdom is not of earth, but eternally in heaven. That is the path Jesus has laid out for us. To seek him, to seek charity, to experience heaven.
Even the best of us have a tendency to sin. That’s why we have to place our trust in the grace of God, and why we discipline ourselves. And the first step to fighting against temptation is the desire to avoid it and say no. Then, we seek to follow God.
That’s why prayer, fasting and almsgiving are central to the Lenten season. Prayer shows our trust and reliance on God, fasting helps to gain control over our desires, and almsgiving shows that we can give while still trusting that we ourselves will be provided for, that we will not lack because of our charity.
Whatever you have decided to do for Lent, in terms of prayer, or charity, or sacrifices, I ask to not waste your time. By that, don’t pray less after having spent these weeks praying more. Don’t give less after having spent these weeks giving more. Don’t decrease your discipling after practicing greater self-mastery. Don’t spend less time with God after having spent more with him. Make the effects of this season last into the joyful times of Easter. God will provide for you; he will guide you on the right path.