First Sunday of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Gospel of Luke 4:1-13
Temptations – Patterns and Decisions

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at St Joseph Church, Victoria Street - Singapore, on 14 February 2016

Today’s Gospel give us an account of the three Temptations that Jesus was subjected to after forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness.  As sinners, all of us here, without exception, one way or another, we daily fall and succumb to our desires, urges, impulses and inclinations that lure us to do something that is wrong and unwise or avoid doing something good. 

Temptation is inseparable from the gift of freedom that God gives to all human beings, out of love for us, beginning from Adam and Eve.  We can choose to live in God’s Love and Ways or otherwise.  St Paul admits to the constant temptations and inner struggles of his heart in his letter to the Romans, 7:15, “I cannot understand my own behaviour.  I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.”  The synonyms of “temptation” are: allure, appeal, attraction, fascination. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, temptation is more complex than we think.  However, within the limited time of this homily, I can only reflect on six general important points about temptations.  First, one of the greatest lures in temptations is our immediate or /short-term self-centered need for gain and gratification.  Such temptations are so appealing and fascinating that we tend to ignore the bigger reality of life that we need to revere and obey.  For example, we may in the short- term, fall into the temptation of telling lies in order to make our lives easier, or we may tear our parking coupon in such a way, to get you some extra time, or hold back the truth to help us avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or give ourselves that little extra look at the website that we say is not going to destroy our life, or make some extra profit over people or gossip about our neighbours and say they deserve it anyway and the like. . . this list can go on and on . . . In giving-in to all of these short-term gain and gratification, we fail to see the greater destruction of our reputation, relationships and faith in God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if Jesus were to have fallen for the devil’s short-term temptation of changing the stones into bread to feed his hunger, although it not a sin, He would have failed in the bigger reality of using His divine powers for His self-service instead of the service and Salvation of others.

The second important point about “temptations” is to note that the devil will use the talents, gifts and blessings that we have to tempt us.  While you and I are blessed differently whether we are a great poet, preacher, painter, singer, statesman, or even blessed with great wealth and compassion our great talents, gifts and blessings may often be used by the devil to draw attention to ourselves instead of God.  In doing so, we will gradually drift from God.  St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that all our gifts and blessings are to be used to praise, reverence and serve God in all that we do and live. 

For example, a person who's gifted with the power of words will be tempted to use his command of words to produce glib excuses to justify his conduct.  A person with great gifts of mind and intellect will be tempted to use them for himself to become the master, not the servant, of others.  And this is even true in spiritual gifts.  If a person has the spiritual gift of teaching or healing, he may be tempted to think highly of himself or feel holier than others, and forget that all his spiritual gifts are pure gifts from God.

The third important point about “temptations” is very practical caution that we should heed.  Never dwell on any temptations as our imaginations and desires are stronger than we think and our will to fight temptations are weaker than we think.  Once we think we are strong and too holy to be tempted, our pride will take over, and before we know it we will fall into the temptations.

There is the Cueva de Villa Luz or Cave of the Lighted House in southern Mexico.  As you make your way to the cave you will walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest.  The cave is also fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish.  The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is breathtakingly beautiful.  If you love the beauty of nature, you would certainly be tempted to enter the caves.  But if you do, you would breathe in the poisonous gases that will soon kill you. 

The fourth important point to take note of when we are faced with temptations is to be aware that the devil’s temptations are often very subtle.  In temptations the devil do not simply tell us that this or that is wrong.  Instead, temptations often pose themselves as something that is “good for us”.  St Ignatius would remind us that the devil can present himself as an “angel of light” to attract us to the good, but eventually draw us away from God.  For example, the devil in tempting Jesus, tries to lure Him to see that since He is so hungry after fasting for forty days, there is nothing wrong in eating bread.  The devil might even be trying to convince Jesus that since He has completed his forty days of fasting, He should now eat well for any further delay may even destroy His health.  And if His health is destroyed, how is He going to serve His Father’s Mission effectively? 

The fifth important point about “temptations” is that we should never allow our faith to drift into complacency.  Arnold Coinby, a historian, made it clear in one of his books that the most dangerous period for a civilization is when it thinks it is safe and no longer needs to face further challenges.  Same thing is true of any individuals or any Christians.  We should never be complacent in the way we live our faith.  In this temptation, the devil will deceive us into thinking that we are already a good practicing Catholic.  He will whisper into our ears and tell us, “Relax; don’t be so uptight and rigid about living your faith; you are fine; /it’s not going to make much difference to your faith  if you skip your prayers or miss Mass on Sundays.”

If we are “complacent” in our faith, we will inevitably take God’s Goodness, Love and Mercy for granted.  And in doing so, our faith will gradually begin to weaken and waver; we will then begin to depend on our own human gifts and talents instead of relying on God’s gifts and blessings.  When this happens and when we do not live a discerning life, we will soon become proud and self-righteous in the living of our faith. 

The sixth important point about “temptations” is that, in times of temptations we should look at Jesus and draw inspiration and strength from Him.

There is a story of a master who used to put a bit of meat on the ground, and he would say to the dog, 'Don't eat that.'  But, the dog would run over and eat it.  He would then hit the dog.  The master would then put another piece of meat on the ground, and say to the dog, 'Don't eat that.'   Again, the dog would go over and eat it, and he would hit him again.  After several more times, the dog got the message, “to eat is to get hit.” So, the dog would not eat the meat. 

What the master noticed was that when the dog finally learnt the lesson of not eating the meat, he would just look at his master and not at the meat, for he knows that he it were to look at the meat, he would be too tempted to disobey his master. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that all the three temptations of Jesus were to test His’ filial obedience as the Son of God to fulfil His Father’s Will.  Instead of falling for the temptations of the devil, Jesus overcame them and reaffirmed His filial Love for His Father and His commitment to the difficult Mission to save all of mankind. 

First, Jesus did not allow the short-term gains and gratifications to lure Him away from His Mission regardless of how convincing the devil was.  Jesus did NOT compromise and was never complacent about His faith in His Father.  He constantly sort to prayer, to deepen His intimacy with His Father.  He used all His gifts for the service of all peoples and remained firm and focused on fulfilling His Father’s Will, for the sake and salvation of all peoples.  And so, when we next face our temptations, let us look at Jesus and learn from Him, for with Jesus as our strength, no temptations is impossible to overcome.

(Cf. Adapted from: Grace on You, How to overcome Temptation, John McCarter, Dec 27, 1970. http://www.godonomics.com/watch-session-5)

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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