5 March 2006: First Sunday of Lent
Mark 1, 12-15: The Temptations of Jesus
Note: The previous post is an alternative homily. So you have choices. This homily is about the two meanings of the word, temptations.
The importance of the Gospel today is to see that Jesus was choosing his method of teaching: the values that he is going to promote, the characteristics that distinguishes a follower from those who are not, and the way that leads to God. Here we see the background of his teaching: an emphasis on being poor in spirit, of servant leadership, and of authentic sincere prayer. There are two 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 if 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 and his 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 our talent search. In American Idol, the object is not to be discouraged at the harsh words of Simon Cowell; but 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--- from television to magazine to 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. You owe it to who you really are--- as a child of God--- and to your family. Most of all, you owe it to God.
For leaders --- whether in Church, government or school--- to face temptations is to solidify the values which you hold dear, and to be undaunted by your own fears.