What's YOUR experience of temptation?

Jesus Denying Satan by Carl Bloch (click on image for larger version)

(Scripture readings for today's liturgy)

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

So, we have Jesus, in the desert, with the devil.
I wonder if, in your mind’s eye,
you’re imagining something including
horns, a red cape and a pitch fork?

Well, Luke’s gospel doesn’t describe what the devil looked like

but I know that when I’m tempted,
I never see anyone or anything with horns and a pitchfork.

Temptation can sometimes be “right in my face”

but more often than not it sneaks up on me,
as if out of nowhere,

in the half-light of shadows,
indistinct, yet appealing…

Often when temptation comes
I have a kind of déjà vu recognition of it:

I’ve seen this, or heard this, or felt this, or wanted this before:
temptation’s desire seems to have a vague history with me…

If temptation arrived dressed in a red devil’s cape
complete with horns and a pitch fork,
I might deal with it better than I sometimes do.

But temptation doesn’t come in a Halloween costume:
it comes in every day clothes;
it makes itself appear normal, harmless;
it beckons innocently

enticing me to accept whatever it’s offering and promising me…

And temptation doesn’t ask me to cave in all at once.
Can’t you hear temptation’s voice?
Oh, come on! Go ahead! Just a little!
Who’s gonna know? Nobody’s gonna get hurt!
You work so hard, you’ve waited so long,
you’ve been so good:

-- you deserve this!
Temptation is seductive and very convincing.

And if I resist: does temptation walk away,
dejected and disappointed?

Does temptation admit defeat and give up on me?
No way!

When I resist,
temptation quietly slips into a corner, just out of sight,

and hits the deck doing push-ups, getting stronger and stronger,
biding its time with exquisite patience
while I congratulate and pat myself on the back
until my pride softens and renders me an even easier target
for temptation’s muscle.

All this temptation business might leave us hopeless
if it weren’t for the story in today’s gospel.
Jesus goes one-on-one with the tempter
and he doesn’t cave, he doesn’t give in, he remains strong.
And more importantly,
Jesus teaches us something about temptation.

He faces his temptation after forty days with no food
- and he was mighty hungry.

I know from Thanksgiving Day dinner
how eating can dull my senses and make me drowsy and lethargic.
Lenten fasting is meant to heighten my senses,
make me more aware of what’s going on around me.

Fasting in Lent is meant to sharpen my awareness
so that I might see temptation for what it is
and learn to recognize it when it comes,
regardless of what disguise it wears.

In the gospel the tempter offers Jesus
what’s already his as God’s Son:

all the power and glory in the world.

And the tempter tried just the same thing
with the man and woman in the Garden of Eden:
“Eat the fruit of this one tree,” he said, “and you’ll be like gods.”
But they were already created in the image and likeness of God.

The tempter delights in getting me to think of myself as worthless,
not good enough, second class -
and then flashing before me a make-over version of my self:
which isn’t the real me; isn’t the person God made me to be;
which is little more than smoke and mirrors,
a Photo-Shopped, touched up, air brushed fantasy
that ultimately leads me away from knowing my true self
and away from knowing God in my life.

And finally the tempter invites Jesus to believe that if he gives in,
things will be a lot easier: painless, pleasant and pleasurable.

But I know from my past that giving into temptation
doesn’t yield the happiness I thought it would bring me.
Oh, there might be a brief high, but the let-down from that high
and the pain it causes me and others
never exceeds nor even equals
the satisfaction and serenity that is mine

when I’m faithful to God’s presence in the life that is mine.

growing closer to the God in whose image I am made…

Fasting: learning to see temptation for what it is
and to heighten my awareness of what’s real in my life…

Caring for the poor:
deepening my understanding of who and what bring me real peace
and finding deep joy in serving others’ needs.

These are the tools Lent offers to strengthen me,
to strengthen each of us,

for those times of temptation from which we pray to be delivered.

Of course, the best way to win the battle with the tempter
is to stay close by the side of Jesus
who fought this battle once, for all of us -- and won.
Only he can deliver us from temptation
and every victory over temptation we have
is the strength of his grace working within us.

Especially at this table, in the sacrament of this altar,
do we find the strength we need to say no to the tempter
and yes to God’s truth in our lives.

Come to the table of the Lord and be nourished by the One
whose victory is ours in his mercy and in his love.
Lent 2010