Gen 2: 7-9, 3: 1-7, Rom 5: 12-19, Mt 4: 1-11
Dear Sisters & Brothers,
The first thing that needs to be said about the temptations of Jesus is that they were real. This was no play-acting. But the question arises: Can a good person be tempted like the rest of us? The truth is the good who resists temptation knows more about its power than the weakling who submits at the very onset of temptation. The following story illustrates the truth of this.
Once upon a time, there were three shepherds who each was responsible for a flock of sheep. Once winter’s night all three were awakened by howling of a wolf.
The first was about to get out of bed when he heard the rain beating against his bedroom window. He had second thoughts, turned over in bed, and went back to sleep.
The second got out of bed, dressed, and went to the front door. However, on opening it he was hit by a squall of sleety rain. He went back inside and returned to his warm bed.
The third got up, dressed, and went outside. There he had to contend with rain, wind, darkness, and cold. But he stuck to his task until he had seen that his sheep were secure. When he got back indoors he was wet through and got a nasty cold as a result of his efforts.
Now, which of the three shepherds knew most about the rain, the wind, and the dark? The third of course.
Those who gave in easily to temptation know little about the struggle involved. Those who struggle with temptation and overcome it, know it best. If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, don’t ask a sinner, ask a saint.
It is because Jesus struggled with temptation and was victorious over it that he can help us in our struggles with temptation. If you want to give up cigarettes or drink, you don’t look for help from someone who has tried and failed. You look for help from someone who has tried and succeeded.
What did temptation mean for Jesus? It meant the same as it meant for Adam and Eve, and as it means for us. It meant choosing between good and evil, between doing God’s will and one’s own will.
And his tempting was not a once-off event. He was tempted right throughout his life. His victory in the desert was not the winning of the war, but merely the winning of a battle.
Since even Jesus and the saints were tempted we can’t hope to escape it. The struggle is between the passions of the flesh and the longings of the spirit. This struggle, with its almost inevitable falls, is not something to be ashamed of. Ours is not never to fall, but to fall, to raise, and go on in spite of everything.
And temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. By forcing us to choose good over evil it makes us strong. Every time one is tempted to do evil but makes a decision to do good, that makes one stronger. Suffering and struggle makes us stronger.
Furthermore, how could we prove our fidelity if there was no temptation? There wouldn’t be any particular credit in remaining virtuous through lack of temptation. Virtue would become meaningless if there was no evil, no struggle.
Virtue involves a choice between good and evil. That choice can sometimes be very difficult, and there is no definitive victory. The battle against choice makes the next right choice more likely and easier.
But we might say, ‘It was easy for Jesus!’ It wasn’t easy for him. He was achieved through prayer, fasting, and reflection on and obedience to the word of God. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus during his struggle. And he is with us too in our struggles. It is a great consolation to know that God is not outside our struggle but is with us during it.
Peace and all good!
Fr. Valery Burusu