Lent I

Jesus’s meeting with Satan in the wilderness is a well-known passage of the Gospel, and it is often with this story that we start Lent, this time of the year when we are invited to reflect on the things that tempt us and how we may be led into surrendering to those temptations and sin, or, on the other side, how we could resist and overcome temptations to lead a godly life. What is interesting today is to notice that we often speak about temptations in the church to denounce them as bad – we should avoid them, and if we manage to avoid them, then we can preserve ourselves and be the perfect sons and daughters of God – yet, looking closer at our Gospel, we may hear another story. For me, what I find surprising, almost shocking and yet amazing – is to realize that all those things Jesus was tempted with, God gave them to Jesus in the end.

1 – Jesus was tempted with turning stones into bread – Well, all the four Gospels report that one day, Jesus will turn five loaves of bread into enough bread to feed five thousands. And not only Jesus will share this earthly bread, but he will be identified with the bread. John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life”. To this very day, Jesus is present to us in the form of the Eucharistic bread.

2 – Jesus was tempted with the desire to rule the earth, and be given by Satan “all glory and all authority”. Christ to this day is praised in all the world by Christians as the King of kings and Son of God / but he is also acknowledged as an important figure by others believers and non believers. The Roman Empire has passed away since long, but Jesus is still honored.

3 Jesus is tempted with throwing himself down the temple to see if God cares enough to rescue him. Well, we know that, in the end, Jesus will not be just caught as he falls but, after he is crucified, he will come back from the dead to be raised up to a new life with God.

And so, I really find it amazing that not only Jesus was given by God what he was tempted with, but God gave him even more, even better. Things so great and wonderful, Jesus could not even imagine.

What does it mean about Jesus?

We need to realize that if Jesus was tempted with these things: food, ruling the world and being God’s favorite, and if in the end God gave all of this to him – it means that Jesus really desired these things, and God thought they were good and wanted to give them to him as well!!

So what does it mean about our own temptations?

Well, maybe it means that the things we are tempted with aren’t necessarily bad. Jesus desired to feed people, to rule the world, and to be God’s only son because he knew deep down this is who he was. In the same way, it seems to me that we also want the things that we are created for. It’s true for our bodily desires of course (We crave food b/c we are meant to eat!), but it is also true for our desires to be acknowledged, to be praised…If we are meant for God and eternal life, we are meant for glory and so it’s natural we long for it!

In the end, very few of us desire bad things, or if we desire bad things it is still in believing they can be good / do us good (like drugs for example). Unlike the demons, we generally don’t want evil for evil. An ex member of the CIA testified one day that, as she got to know a lot of terrorists, she realized they did not want to do evil, they thought they were the good guys, heroes and God’s chosen…even if they were criminals in the sight of many, in their own eyes they fought for justice!

So what happens? How can things can go so wrong if we desire the very things we are meant for? I think this passage of the Gospel shows us three reasons. What goes wrong with our desires is that:

1 – We are impatient. We try to cut corners and we don’t think very deeply, “We want what we see”. We’re so hungry, we would eat stones! Our desire get stuck on what is right in front of us (David with Bathsheba). Yet generally this very thing / person won’t in the end fulfill our needs. This is what Jesus will teach the Samaritan woman: If you drink this water, you’ll be thirsty again. We don’t want to wait for God to bring what we really long for into our lives / to work to find it, we often try to get quick fixes by means that can be harmful to us or to others: We all want peace (good desire) but then to have peace, some will juts to numb themselves with alcohol instead of changing their lifestyle! Our quick fixes are a lack of efforts and also a lack of imagination! We want the first thing we can think of (“Money will solve all our problems!”)

2 – We are selfish: we want things for ourselves instead of thinking on how it can be a benefit to all. Satan offers to give the world to Jesus so Jesus can be glorified, but Jesus realizes that glory is not for himself, Jesus wants to bring the whole world into God’s glory. We may want good things, like for example a promotion at work, but we may be tempted to think only about how it would serve our interests (better salary, a nice title, a corner office) without thinking of the way we could use our promotion to collaborate with others/ to make a real change.

3 The real problem with temptation: When we desire from a place of brokenness, instead of desiring from a place of abundance. We want to fill a void inside of us. That’s the reason why a lot of people have affairs / it’s mostly b/c they are lonely, they don’t share real intimacy (body, heart, spirit) with their close ones. Need to find this person who could fill their lives. But the idea is to love from a place of abundance- where you can give, instead of doing it from a place of neediness!

So we are tempted….But through temptations, we learn. As Jesus learned before starting his ministry, moving from a place of neediness to a place of abundance. Like Jesus, we are not asked to forsake desire, but to find a greater and deeper desire – a desire to give instead of a desire to take.

Temptations are often desires that are not mature, God does not want us to stop desiring, God wants us to desire better and deeper so God can give us what he created us for and we can give it to the world. For example, artistic people have often a desire for fame. And it is good b/c seeking fame they can touch a lot of people by sharing their emotions! Energetic people often have a desire for power, and it is good when they can be leaders who guide others…“Vocation: where deepest longing and the need of the world meet”. What will disappoint and deceive us is not desiring, it is desiring too little / too narrow. Desire to have right away / for our own benefit.

Conclusion: We could wonder…. Does God tempt us? (Lord’s prayer:“Lead us not into temptation” re-translated ) Yes and no. Not sure God tempts us, but as the Spirit led Jesus in the wilderness, we are certainly led in places of wilderness, when we are feeling empty, needy, – and yes that’s often when temptations show up. There are two ways to react to that:

– a lot of Christians live their life holding their breath, just trying to resist to temptations.

– but maybe, we can also realize that God is trying to tell us something when we are tempted. God talks to us about what’s deep inside of us. And by engaging the dialogue (As Jesus does with the Scriptures) we may gain something dealing with temptations instead of just fleeing from them, transforming our desires to bring the best out of us. Addicts who manage to recover aren’t those who just avoid situations where they are tempted, but as they think about the reasons why they are addicted, they learn something about themselves and learn how to lead healed lives that don’t leave them with a void to fill with whatever is available.

So maybe this Lent, as Jesus, we may want to think not only about how we can just shut out our temptations, but also face the wilderness they come from, to be in touch with our brokenness, to find what we are really called to do, called to be and to find the many ways in which God can save us. Amen.

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