Temptation is more than just saying ‘No’
Today’s Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism. Each of the three temptations touches on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, which had been revealed during his baptism: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ “Notice that each of the three temptations is preceded by the same verse: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ The first way the evil one tempts any of us is to make us doubt our divine identity. Once we think we are no good, we are lost.” (R.Rohr) We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who we are, which can so easily be overlooked or forgotten in our crazy, hectic, tightly scheduled, work-oriented lives.
The type of temptations we experience and the circumstances by which they come are unique to each one of us because they reveal what’s inside us, what fills us. That’s why just saying no is an overly simplistic understanding of this gospel and an inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is less about a choice and more about our identity and direction in life. Who am I? Where is my life headed? We answer those questions every time we face and respond to our temptations. We face ourselves and learn the ways in which our life has become disconnected from the original beauty of our creation and the transfiguring presence of God. Temptation offers us something to be discovered and the opportunity to recover ourselves. Regardless of what we see there within us, it’s just information, a diagnosis. It’s not a final judgment, a conclusion, or our grade on God’s final exam! We don’t pass or fail our temptations. We learn the truth about how we see ourselves. We learn the truth about the direction of our life and who we are becoming. This learning is neither easy nor pain free but it is the necessary learning which leads us to change our hearts (repent).
Now is the time to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence where the inner life thrives. We need to create a time and a space to allow God to reshape and redirect our life, to return us to the truth of who we are, daughters and sons of God, beloved children, with whom He is well pleased. The angels of God will hold on to us when we can’t hold on to ourselves.