THE TEMPTATION (Matthew 4:1-11)
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801
March 5,2017- 1st Sunday of Lent
A man was circling the city block looking for a place to park. He drove around several times but could not find a spot. Finally, he gave up and decided to leave his car at the No Parking Zone. Before leaving, he wrote a note on the windshield with these words. “Dear Parking Officer, I circled this block many times but could not find a place to park. Now, I know I parked illegally but I must report to my boss or else I’ll be in trouble; so I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me and not give me a ticket. After all, the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
A couple of hours later, he came back and found a ticket on his car with these words. “Sir, I understand your predicament, but you see I also must perform my duty or else, I would also be in trouble. So I hope you will find it in your heart to understand. After all, the Lord’s Prayer says, “And lead us not into temptation.”
“Lead us not into temptation” is probably the part of the Lord’s Prayer that is hard to understand. “Forgive us our trespasses” is OK; after all God is a God of forgiveness. But lead us not into temptation? Why would God lead us into temptation? Isn’t temptation the work of the devil? Why would God lead us first into temptation and then deliver us from evil? What is the point of all this exercise?
BOOK OF TEMPTATIONS
It has been suggested that maybe one of the good subtitles for the Bible would be "The Book of Temptations." First, the Bible opens with the story of Adam and Eve being tempted to eat the forbidden fruit; then it proceeded to tell that Cain being tempted to kill his brother.
Then Noah being tempted; and Abraham being tempted; and Moses being tempted; and King David being tempted; and the prophets being tempted; and the Apostles being tempted…and now in this Gospel of Matthew, it is Jesus being tempted. Matthew’s narrative began by saying “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1).
What is the nature of temptation? Where does temptation happen?
What is the nature of temptation? Where does temptation happen?
First, temptation happens everywhere. It is possible you can run from temptation but you can’t hide. It is present in the city, it is present in the countryside, it is present in the air, it is present in the open air, it is present in a closed door. Here, in this gospel of Matthew, Jesus was tempted in the desert, a place of nothingness, a dry and arid place.
Second, temptation is a test of our will; how strong or how weak our will is. And oftentimes, the testing of our will happens when we are weakest and vulnerable. It seems that Satan knows our blind spot, our weak point, and that is where he would launch his attack. Judas was tempted on his weak point, money. As treasurer of the apostles, he was always counting the money. So he was tempted with 30 pieces of silver to betray his Lord.
Third, it seems that temptation is a way of helping us to make choices. God did not give us only one choice. God gave us two choices: life or death; light or darkness; good and evil. Temptation gives us a stress of making the hard or the right choice.
Making the right choice is not easy and the more choices you are presented, the harder it gets. When I was a child, when I sat on the breakfast table, I had only once choice of bread, we call pandesal, that was the only bread available. Nowadays, I had to make a choice from a white bread, a wheat bread, a rye bread, a corn bread, a sweet bread, a ginger bread, a croissant, a bagel or a doughnut.
So let us examine what kind of temptations Jesus experienced and what kind of choices did he make:
The first temptation of Jesus was this: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Now this temptation comes at a time when Jesus was vulnerable to eat bread. He had fasted for forty days and forty nights. Any ordinary human being would have perished by then. Satan was testing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. If there is nothing impossible with God, then certainly Jesus can make loaves out of rocks. But would He make that choice?
Jesus did not yield to the temptation to materialism and instead uttered these spiritual words: “It is written; Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
By not yielding to this temptation, Jesus was establishing the identity that man is more than the beast. St. Teresa de Avila wrote, “Human beings are not material beings with spirits. Human beings are spiritual beings with bodies.” That’s what distinguishes us from the animals, from the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees. As the crown of God’s creation, we are firstly spiritual beings. We do not live by bread alone…someone said but also with butter and orange marmalade.
The second temptation of Jesus was about pride. While the first temptation was about his physical vulnerability, the second temptation was about his popularity. The devil took him to a high point on the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down and the angels will lift you up so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” That would be a great sensational news! It is like superman falling from the air and being carried by invisible wings!
Again Jesus did not yield to that temptation and replied, “It is written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” By not yielding to the temptation of pride, arrogance or sensationalism, he underscored the virtue of humility.
The third temptation was about power. While the first temptation was about physical vulnerability, the second was about spiritual pride, the third temptation was about moral ascendancy. Can Jesus be corrupted by power? If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, could He be tempted to accumulate more power? Is this not what every man wants: wealth, fortune, economic, social political power?
So the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I would give you,” Satan said, “if you will bow down to worship me.”
But again, Jesus did not yield to the temptation. The choice of riches and power is at the expense of His loyalty to God, the Father. At this point, Jesus exercised His God-given authority by rebuking the devil a saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
At this point, the devil left Him and the angels ministered to him. When you resist temptation, the tempter flees away!
WHAT LESSONS CAN WE GET FROM JESUS WHEN WE ARE FACED WITH OUR OWN TEMPTATIONS?
First lesson is that we must establish our identity in Christ, the Son of God. By faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we become adopted children of God. The Bible says, in John 1:12, “To as many have received Jesus, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.” The word Christian can be divided into two words “Christ and Ian.” If you remove Christ from your life, then Christian becomes IAN- “I Am Nothing.”
Second lesson is that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are yet, He did not sin. He overcame temptation by making right choices. Every day of our life we make choices: our marriage, our job, our vocation, our health. The gift of “free will” is what makes us human. God did not make like robots who had no choice. Rather, God made us in His own image, so that we may use that freedom for good. But the choice is ours to make.
In 1973. the novel “The Exorcist” was made into a movie. It was a very scary movie. It tells the story a cute and innocent 12-year-old girl named Reagan. She was possessed by the devil, who took control of her body. Sometimes the body would have a terrible convulsion and at other time her head would spin. Her mother was an actress and an intellectual; she might have believed in God but was never religious. She considered demon possession as a product of a wild imagination. But as the situation of their daughter became worse, and after submitting her daughter to several unsuccessful psychiatric and medical treatments, she was forced to consult with a young Jesuit priest from Georgetown University, named Fr. Karras. Fr. Karras was himself experiencing a crisis of faith. Brought about by the loss of his own mother and the troubles happening in his ministry, he was beginning to doubt the existence of a loving God. Nevertheless, he arranged for an exorcist, an elderly priest, Fr. Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, to perform the exorcism.
The exorcism became a terrifying contest between the demon and the exorcist and it was in that contest that Fr. Damien saw that the devil was very powerful but that the power of God was far more superior than the power of the devil. It was in that deliverance ministry that the faith of Fr. Karras was restored and the healing of the girl Reagan happened. The devil was expelled and the good triumphed in the end.
It was a movie that generated so much controversy because of the portrayal of the devil possessing a child. When asked what was the role of the devil in this story, the author William Peter Blatty, said “In the age of unbelief, God can even use the devil to accomplish God’s purpose.” It was the deliverance from evil that faith was restored, first to Karras the priest, and then to Regan’s family.
In the final analysis, when temptation has overcome us and the testing of our faith reached to a point of us making the wrong choice, the is still the third lesson. So long as you hold on to that even a minutiae of the point of faith, God’s love is always there waiting for you, when we repent. Like the Prodigal Son returning home, the Father is there waiting. Or even like the thief on the Cross with Jesus, there is the promise, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Today, is the first Sunday of Lent: 40 days and 40 nights of opportunities for prayer, penitence and spiritual renewal. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Amen.