S+L logo

How do you solve a problem like temptation?

March 1, 2017
A reflection for the First Sunday of Lent
It seems almost scandalous to think that Jesus experienced temptation. We think of temptation as something shameful, something that only happens to us and not to others, something that distances us from God.
But in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent we see Jesus tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus is led into the desert and there He is subjected to the confusing and manipulative tactics of the Enemy.
Jesus was like us in every way except sin. But sin and temptation are not the same thing. Jesus was tempted, He did not sin. What can we take from this for our own fight against temptation? How do we avoid sin even when we experience temptation?
Living with God is not a cakewalk. Sometimes we can have an image of the Church as a place of sweet-sounding hymns and sweet-smelling flowers, where the holy and the pious congregate to polish their perfection and venerate great saints whose lives seem impossibly heroic. But this is not the spiritual life.
The spiritual life is a combat. It is tough. It is hard work. We are not God, but God wants to make us more and more like Himself. This brings tremendous joy, but also growing pains. It requires effort on our part, but most importantly it requires grace. We will be tempted, but this does not scandalize God. God wants to help us overcome our temptations to make us better. God does not tempt us; God brings us through temptation. We cannot do it alone; we need God.
After Jesus rejects the devil’s seductive advances the third time, we read: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matthew 4:11). The punchline of this Gospel is that temptation is not endless. God has the last word. His grace will always prevail. The devil will not win in the end: the angels are on their way.
Encouraged by this Gospel reading, there are three practical ways that can help us avoid and overcome temptation throughout this Lenten season.
First, pray to God. Pray for His grace to help through whatever is tempting. Ask for His mercy. God is with you and He loves you. He is not scandalized or discouraged by imperfection. Praying not only opens us to receiving God’s help, it will also bring us closer to God.
Second, take practical steps. For temptations that recur time and time again, finding concrete ways to overcome and avoid can be a huge help. Eating a banana split is no longer tempting when we’re no longer staring it right in the face. Take the banana split away. Walk away from the banana split. Find ways of avoiding the banana split. See it for what it really is: some semi-solidified cold milk with a random fruit and some gooey liquid that increases your chances for diabetes. This may seem extreme when speaking of dairy desserts, but it can come in handy.
Third, see with God’s perspective. See that you are a child of God. See that God wants you to be holy. “His patience is in the direction of our salvation” (2 Peter 3:9). See that your holiness is far more valuable than whatever appears attractive in your temptation. The value of gold increases when it is tested by fire, it does not diminish. Overcoming temptation makes us stronger not weaker. Temptation becomes a sin when use our will and say “yes.” Otherwise, we should simply do as Taylor Swift does and “Shake it off.” The fact that a thought enters our mind is not sin. Being attracted to something evil is not sin. Saying yes to this evil attraction is sin.
And even when we do sin, we are not without hope. We have a Saviour who has been tempted Himself. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). May Jesus strengthen our resolve to be holy and bring us His mercy throughout this season of Lent. Especially when we are most in need, let us approach His throne of grace with boldness. The Lord is there to help us in the battle. He has already won the war.
Related posts
The Universe Turns Upon a Cup of Water Given to the Little Ones
FacebookTwitter
Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Sunday, November 26th, 2017 During my graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in the late 1980s, I had the privi ...read more
What Christ Has Given Us Is Multiplied In Its Giving
FacebookTwitter
Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A – November 19th, 2017 Today’s Gospel story presents us with the last of the three parables that form Jesus’ final discourse in Matthew’s Gospel ...read more
“Mother and head of all the churches on earth”
FacebookTwitter
Reflection for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – November 9, 2017 Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. It is known as “Mother and ...read more
The Oil Needed to Keep our Lamps Burning Brightly
FacebookTwitter
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – November 12th, 2017 The three parables of Jesus’ final discourse in Matthew’s Gospel are a fitting way to move toward the end of the liturgica ...read more
Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For November 2017, we join the Holy Father in praying for: Christians in Asia – That Christians in Asia, bearing witness to ...read more