Thanks to the genre of voyeuristic television “Temptation” has become a very popular word recently. A some years ago that mode of entertainment enabled us to peek into the “committed lives” of couples who were rewarded somehow by tempting their relationship. Beautiful women, balmy beaches, and virile men. Put them together and what do you get--temptation. In the film “Couples Retreat” on an island designed to build bonds between spouses temptation inserted itself.
In today’s gospel we are given insight into the humanity of Jesus. It was in that humanity that Jesus was taken into the dessert. It was in his humanity that Jesus was tempted. The gospel is given to us today so that we might have a measure of our own temptation and our ability to resist. Like Jesus our abilities to resist temptation of any sort is based on the decisions we make.In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for all people by providing them with food. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for himself and for us by making use of political power. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus make himself the ruler of the center of his world,
What is Jesus response to all of these suggestions? He goes back to the Book of Deuteronomy. It is from that ancient text that Jesus finds his answer. He will put his life in God’s hands and God’s hands alone.It is not unimportant to the Christian life to note that temptation comes more often when we, like Jesus, are in the midst of a desert experience. By that I mean an experience where it appears that all of our support is gone, an experience of utter aloneness--An experience of getting lost and not being able to decide the proper direction to take. Some of you may be going through an experience like that right now.
Perhaps you are the forty year old who has just been laid off due to corporate downsizing. The desert experience is being without a job and filled with confusion, resentment and the utter sense of failure.
Perhaps you are a widow whose husband died after only 18 years of marriage. You are left bereft of the warm relationship you had. You are filled with grief. You are entangled in a world of decisions to be made by you alone where once you had a partner.
Or, is the desert experience that you are going through the experience of being a high school senior. You are getting ready to leave home. You are filling out applications, going for campus visits, and interviews. You are waiting, waiting for letters and acknowledgments, so that you can get on with life. But at the same time questioning, “Am I ready for this? Do I really truly want to grow up?”
Desert experiences are abundant in our lives and with them come the temptations. Of all the temptations that are available to us there is one that is most evil. It is not sex, it is not power, and it is not wealth. The most evil of all temptations is despair. The despair that comes from deciding to let go of God. The despair that come from deciding to not grow from your desert experience. The despair that comes from deciding not to love, when a loved one is taken away, the despair that comes from deciding to let fear of the future overrule you.
The same spirit that accompanied Jesus in his desert decision making is the spirit that accompanies you through the joys and anguish of life. Lent calls our beings into the desert to discern what God call us to. Lent is the time to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble.”
Desert experiences are all too frequent. But they allow us to refocus, recenter, and renew our hope in God’s compassionate promise of new hope and new life in, through and with Jesus.