Saturday, March 04, 2017

How to Handle Temptation

The gospel of this First Sunday of Lent shows us Jesus alone in the desert being tempted by Satan. Re-reading the passage from Saint Matthew's gospel, I am reminded of watching a sword fight. Satan's first thrust is the temptation for Jesus to use his powers to satisfy his hunger by changing stones into bread. Certainly after 40 days fasting, Jesus was hungry for bread. Jesus would not bow to Satan by using his divine nature to do a sort of magic trick to turn inanimate matter like stones into bread. Jesus thrusts back at Satan with the Word of God: "Not on bread alone is man to live, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." The Devil could not trick Jesus by playing on his physical appeptites, so he tried a second time to tempt. This temptation told Jesus to jump off the highest part of the Temple and be unharmed, since, if Jesus wished it to be, no harm would come to him. Satan was clueless about Jesus' resolute iron will: no, Jesus would not tempt God by showing off, by being a first century stunt man. Jesus counters the Devil with another Word from God: "You shall not put the Lord God to the test." I can imagine the passion with which Jesus hurled his answer back to the Tempter. Yet Satan did not give up: he tried a third time: He offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world with all their pomp and vanity on the condition that Jesus of Nazareth would bow down in homage to Satan. Jesus gave Satan a final tuche': "Away with you, Satan! Scrpture says: "You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore." And, Matthew wrote: "At that the Devil left him, and angels came and ministered to him."
I try to visualize the gospels when I read them. It helps when a passage evokes a movie clip so I can imagine what Jesus may have looked like. In the just released movie "The Shack" the Jesus character is a middle-eastern Israeli. Who knows, since Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, he may well have had raven black hair, big brown eyes and bronze/brown skin. The Jesus we know from the gospel never gave in to the Devil's wiles. He used Scripture to drive out The Evil One. Jesus was rock solid in adhering to the Father's Will. Our temptations may be scaled down a bit, since we are the small fry in the huge ocean of humanity. Yet in our Creed we say that we believe in God the "Almighty." This means God can do all things. The Devil tries to trip us and knock us over the edge of our weakness into a pool of discouragement, or frozen half-heartedness. What to do? All spiritual people I know of never gave Satan the time of day, nor do they "hang around" literally asking for trouble. Satan may be trying to rope you into his clutches by all sorts of mean tricks. Yet praying with the actual words of Scripture gives us a powerful weapon against Satan and his many legions. Our chaplain at Mass this morning noted that the responsorial Psalm yesterday and the day before, and for today the First Sunday of Lent remains the same: Psalm 51. (In older translations it may appear as Psalm 50). After King David fell miserably into adultery and even murder the grace of repentance permeated this Psalm of David. David's pours out his soul as he tells of his sincere repentance and sorrow: "Against you only have I sinned, and have done what is evil in your sight." Yet David did not wallow in his sorrow, he asks for strength to get up and do better: He asks God for the grace to stick to the right path, he says, "and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Father Charlie suggested praying Psalm 51 and slowly meditating on it. I leave you with words from Psalm 51: "Give me back the joy of your salvation and a willing spirit sustain in me." Have a prayerful First Full Week of Lent.

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