13 March 2011 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2: 7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Note. This is a scheduled post. Blogger publishes this entry at the date I intended it to come out in my blog. Please pray for us, 8 Jesuits, making the 30-Day Retreat, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
We begin with an anthropology of what we are in the view of Christianity: we are most human when we serve, praise and reverence God (Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola). We sometimes refer to this when we say that the glory of God is humanity fully alive — but when? When we behold the face of God and do God’s will. And therefore, our understanding of original sin is having the ability of a created being to deny God. It is possible for each one of us to make a choice for God or our self.
Grace does not force our will, so that everything that we do is motivated by our love for God. Thus, in every turn, we are tempted in order for us to make a choice: to curtail or impede our freedom or to respect our very humanity.
There are two dictionary meanings of the word, temptation. First, to tempt means to seek to seduce into evil. To tempt means to lure people to sin. To tempt is better envisioned like a seductress to a man, or a seducer to woman. To tempt means to persuade one to enter into an illicit relationship. In Scripture, however, the verb peirazein is often better translated by the word, test.
In the Old Testament, we read the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God tested the loyalty of Abraham by seeming to demand the sacrifice of his only son. The passage goes, “And it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). Obviously, the word tempt as to seduce to sin, cannot be used here because it is something God would never do — to lead one into sin. It means rather, that Abraham has to submit to a test of loyalty and obedience.
In its New Testament usage, to tempt a person is not so much to seduce him or her to sin, as in the first meaning, but to test his strength, loyalty and his ability for service. In the Temptations of Jesus, it is said, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). If we take again the word tempt here as in the first meaning as to lead one to sin, it means that the Holy Spirit is partner in the attempt to compel Jesus to sin.
Thus, in the Bible, to tempt has the idea of testing, to test one’s loyalty and obedience, to test one’s strength. Here is one precious truth about temptations. Temptation is not designed to make us fall. Temptation is designed to make us stronger and better persons. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good, and to make us holier. We may fail the test, but we are not meant to. We are meant to emerge stronger, with much dignity and worth. Temptation is not so much our penalty, but our glory. If a metal is to be used for bridges, the metal is tested at stresses and strains far beyond those which it likely has to bear.
So how should we regard temptations? Take it as a challenge: the object is not to yield, but overcome it. It is like talent shows with judges to critique like the Master Chef, American Idol or Pilipinas Got Talent. Their harsh words is suppose to coax the contestant to give out the very best.
There are four steps to face temptations. First, you must not be weakened by your situation. For example, if you are already handsome and intelligent, you could easily yield to the temptation of being seduced. Second, you must not be deceived by the persuasion. You see your tempter will have the right words and will be very persuasive. “Sige na, by doing this you will prove you really care for me.” “Ngayon lang. Sa susunod wala na.” “Nalulungkot kasi ako, maiintindihan naman ng Diyos.” Baits can come each day— the internet, television, magazines or peer pressure.
Third, you must not be gentle with your emotions. Huwag alagaan ang mga nararamdaman, huwag magpapadala sa emosyon! Often at the peak of our emotions, we decide and act what we will soon regret. St. Ignatius gives this advice: Don’t decide when you are at extremes— too happy or too sad, too angry or super so kilig.
Finally, you must not be confused with the immediate results. You may lose your friends. You may lose your lover. You may lose acceptance in a group or be ridiculed. I suggest, then so be it: we do it in the principle that our loyalty is first and primarily to Christ and no one else. We owe it to who we really are— as a child of God— and to our family. Most of all, you owe it to God.
And so when we use our freedom, understood as the ability to make a choice for God (not one’s self), then we become better human beings. If we yield to temptation, failing the test and violating our freedom, we become deformed.
Jesus, in the Gospel today, sets the example of how to become fully alive. In the first Sunday of Lent, it is good to know what we are meant to be.