Temptation – Homily by Rev Fr Osita Eze
A story was told of a farmer who lived for so many years with only his dog for a companion. One sad day, he found his dog dead and so, he went to his parish priest and asked if service could be conducted for his dog either by the seminarian or deacon but the priest said: Oh! No! We can’t have service for a dog here but, there is a new church down the street that might be willing and the man replied, father, do you think $50,000 dollars might be enough for the donation? Asked the farmer and the priest answered: why didn’t you tell me that your dog was a catholic?
Dear friends in Christ, temptation make us compromise our ultimate values. Temptations are part of our human existence. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask the heavenly Father to “lead us not into temptation.” This does not mean that God is the cause of temptations. The Apostle St. James pointed that out: “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation and He himself tempts no one” (Jas 1:13). Rather, temptation comes from the evil one.
However, although God is not the cause of temptation, he allows it, as shown in the Gospel: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1). Jesus emerged victorious over these temptations and this experience helped him prepare for his public ministry. So, we ask the Father not to lead us into temptation, fully aware that we are not as strong and invincible as Jesus.
In His inscrutable wisdom, God allows temptations, for He knows we can benefit from them. In the first place, we discover our true self, and we realize how weak we really are. This helps us become truly humble and vigilant at all times. Temptations also remind us of how strong the enemy is. So, we find it necessary to seek refuge and protection in someone infinitely stronger than the enemy, and as the Gospel has clearly shown, it is Jesus. So, remaining close to him at all times will keep us safe from all wicked attacks of the devil.
Temptations and trials also purify our intentions, as when gold is tried in the fire. They are an effective test of our loyalty and commitment to God. And finally, they also strengthen us in the practice of Christian virtues – such as humility, prudence, prayer, patience, purity of heart and charity. Indeed, when we overcome them, we benefit tremendously. St. James said, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that He promised to those who love Him” (Jas 1:12).
Nevertheless, we should not look for temptations. There is no need to do that, for they will inevitably come and find us, especially in our weakest and unguarded moments. In fact, unnecessarily exposing ourselves to temptations and occasions of sin is already sinful.
It is, therefore, important to know what these temptations are so that we can be ready to deal with them properly. In the Gospel, the devil used three temptations. The first temptation warns us against materialism and selfishness. There is nothing wrong with changing stones into bread. Jesus also multiplied bread during his ministry. But He did it not for any selfish motivation or materialistic consideration, for “man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He did not succumb to the temptation to use his divine powers to address a personal problem or to avoid difficulties and hard work.
The second temptation is a warning against pride and vanity. Jesus need not jump from the parapet of the Temple to show off his divine powers and oblige the Angels to catch him. In the same way, we are reminded that the best way to achieve true greatness is through humility and purity of heart, not in the ostentatious display of our talents, academic honours and worldly achievements.
The third temptation warns us against our personal ambitions and the strong tendency to seek human glory. It would be such an infinitely fatal mistake to turn away from God and fall down to worship material things and temporal power. Jesus reminds us: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone shall you serve!”
We have just begun the season of Lent. It commemorates the forty days that Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert. The Preface on this first Sunday captures the meaning of this season: “His fast of forty days makes this a holy season of self-denial. By rejecting the devil’s temptations, He has taught us to rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil, and so to share his paschal meal in purity of heart, until we come to its fulfilment in the promised land of heaven.”
During this season, let us accompany Jesus through our prayers and acts of self-denial. “Watch and pray,” he said, “that you may not undergo the test” (Mt 26:41). And if our human frailty catches up with us, and we fall, let us not lose heart. Let’s just be glad that the world is full of trials, not finals! Most importantly, it should give us comfort and peace to know that the Lord is always ready to forgive us and strengthen us in the sacrament of Confession. He reminds us time and again: “In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33). Jesus, indeed, is our sure refuge and ultimate victor.