Lent is not mainly about “giving up,” rather it is about “growing up.” It is a time to enrich and strengthen our faith and to reinforce our weak spots—where temptations are more likely to get through; it might be anger, unforgiveness, addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs, pride or infidelity. The aim is to get rid of the idols in our life, so as to worship and serve God alone.
Every year, on the first Sunday of Lent, we read at Mass one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptations (this year, Matthew’s). We are reminded that, during the Lenten season, we must gather up strength to be able to fight against the power of evil. For that, we need to intensify our prayer life and our acts of penance and charity. In the Philippines, this Sunday is marked every year as “National Migrants’ Day.” Is it, perhaps, because migrants are easily exposed to temptation? That seems to be the implication, since in the Prayer of the Faithful we are invited to pray, “that the families of migrant workers may remain steadfast in the face of temptation, resist the lure of materialism and strive to stay united in prayer.” (Sambuhay)
When we pray the Our Father and say, “… lead us not into temptation,” we are not asking God to keep temptations away from us, but rather to help us not to give in, or to fall into, temptation. Temptations are part and parcel of human life. They afford us an opportunity to show how strong or how weak our love for God is. If overcome, temptations become a source of merit and grace. The strength of iron is tested by fire. We discover the worth of true love and friendship when they are tested. Likewise, we prove our love for God when we fight and overcome temptations. “The absence of temptation is the absence of virtue.” (Goethe)
Temptation is an invitation to take the easy road and to deviate from God’s commands. This is particularly clear in the account of the temptations of Jesus. He had just begun his public ministry and had committed himself to do the will of the Father by submitting to John’s baptism of repentance. But Satan comes around telling him to take it easy: “Why go hungry? You have the power to turn stones into bread; use it. Show ‘em who you are.” It is an invitation to be selfish, to use power for his own good. Jesus would experience this sort of temptation again and again in his life. For instance, when Peter told him, after the first announcement of his passion: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! (Mt. 16:22- 23) Or when, after the multiplication of
the loaves, the people wanted to make him king. (Jn. 6:15) Jesus withdrew to the mountain alone. Or when people asked him for a sign from heaven—so they could believe in him (Mt. 16:1; Mk 8:11)
Jesus simply refused.
Perhaps Satan’s fiercest attack on Jesus took place when Jesus was hanging on the cross and Satan put in the mouth of people the same old mantra, “If you are the Son of God…” First, “Those passing by reviled him… If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Mt. 27:39) Next, “The chief priests and the scribes mocked him and said, ‘Let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him… for he said: I am the Son of God’.” And then, “One of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.’” (Lk. 23:39) The temptation of power and greed haunted Jesus up to the very last moment of his life. But he came out victorious by staying on the cross, doing the Father’s will.
Notice how Jesus quotes Scripture passages (Dt. 8:3; 6:13 and 6:16) in order to fend off the devil’s ploys. The Word of God is a powerful source of grace and strength against temptation. But then the devil also quotes a Scripture passage himself. (Ps. 91: 1, 2) Indeed the Word of God can be used in the wrong way and for the wrong purpose too. Discernment is needed before lending credence to any “bible babbler.”
Last Wednesday we started the Lenten season with the imposition of ashes. Lent is not mainly about “giving up,” rather it is about “growing up.” It is a time to enrich and strengthen our faith and to reinforce our weak spots—where temptations are more likely to get through; it might be anger, unforgiveness, addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs, pride or infidelity. The aim is to get rid of the idols in our life, so as to worship and serve God alone.