TEMPTATION VS SIN: HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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A priest friend of mine was about to have his breakfast one Thursday morning before heading for lectures in the high school under his parish. But he suddenly changed his mind, just after saying the grace before meals, and proceeded to the school. His parochial assistant came to the same table to have his breakfast. After making the sign of the cross, accompanied by the grace before meals, he opened the dish and suddenly changed his mind about eating. He attempted to pick a piece of meat but felt discouraged and he left the table without tasting anything.

Few days later, just about noon, one room in the priest’s residence ‘mysteriously’ caught fire! Thanks to God that the inferno was noticed in time and the fire was extinguished before it could overwhelm the entire building. Upon inquiry about the cause of the fire, one of the boys helping the priest’s house admitted that he was responsible. He confessed that few day ago he poisoned the breakfast the cook served for the priest and his assistant with acid from a battery but they could not eat the food and he made sure he threw the food into the trash and later planned to burn the house. When he was queried as to why he wanted to kill the priest and his assistant he said that it was the devil that made him do the things he did. Devil accused!

Last year a man was caught at motor garage with a travelling bag containing the dead body of a child of about six year old. He actually refused to drop the bag in the trunk of the bus he boarded and was thus making the sitting arrangement difficult. The bus assistant suspected that there was something fishy about the bag and ordered the man to open it and clear the air. He refused and the people around forcefully took the bag from him and opening the bag everyone saw the dead body of the child. When he was questioned about his obscene act he said it was the devil! Devil accused!

There are numerous instances of misdeed wherein people ended up blaming their acts on the devil and accusing him. It thus appears that the devil goes about with some powerful remote controller that instantly pushes people to commit sin! Actually the issue is all about most people confusing temptation and sin! I think that what the devil does primarily is to tempt us and we in turn acting under that attraction WILLFULLY GIVE IN (whereby we can also willfully refuse to give in)! The devil does not force anyone to commit sin we still have our free will!

Today the gospel tells us about the temptation of Jesus Christ by the devil (Luke 4:1-13).According to the narrative our Lord just completed forty days retreat in the wilderness where he proceeded to after his baptism under the influence of the Holy Spirit. After the retreat which included fasting (for forty days) and prayers the devil came to tempt him with three-fold allurements. The wilderness or desert here rings a strong bell. From numerous biblical descriptions, wilderness is both place and a state.

  • It is a desolate and dry place without water (Ezk. 19:13).
  • It is a desolate state characterized by disconnection from God ( Num.14:33; Isa. 64:10).
  • It is a place of divine encounter and prayer (Luke 5:16; Mark 1:12ff).
  • It stands also as a place of refuge (1 Sam.23:14; Rev.12:14-17).
  • It is a place and a state of trial, temptation and punishment. (Ex. 15:22; Num.14:32; Luke 4:1ff).
  • It is also place of victory (Ex. 17:9-13; Luke 4:13-14).

The devil came to tempt our Lord after forty days of fasting and prayers. The people of Israel journeyed for forty years before reaching the Promised Land (Joshua 5:6) and we have been admitted into a period of forty days of the Lenten period. A deeper reflection on the temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ as we read in the gospel today will help us a lot as we undertake the Lenten journey. This reflection among other things will help us to be aware of the temptations that may assail us and also being careful not to give in by falling into sin.

It will be pertinent to establish immediately that the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ was real and it was an experience of his human nature (as opposed to some ideas that he refuted the devil in his divine nature). The letter to the Hebrews confirms this when it says that: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness but one who was tempted in every way like us yet he did not sin” (Heb.4:15).

1. If you are the son of God command this stone to become bread: This first temptation was directed at the immediate need of Jesus Christ at that time. He was just coming out from the forty days fast and obviously he was hungry and the devil cashed in on that to make him use his divine power in a very selfish way. Temptation can only come to you through what appeals to you and not what you don’t have any connection with. A dog will be tempted with a bone not with a cigarette, monkey with banana not with brandy!

In this first temptation you will notice that the devil used our Lord’s eternal position as the Son of God to challenge him. It is like telling someone: “if you think you are a man do this or that!” The devil knows that he is obviously the Son of God and he was actually telling him to use the privilege of his divinity and make himself confortable. Often temptation comes to us in our ardent desire for material comfort; in our effort to attend to our appetites. To this temptation our Lord Jesus Christ replied the devil with the word of God in Deuteronomy (8:3) which say “Man must not live by bread alone!”

 

2. To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me: It is always a joyful thing for the devil to steal the worship and adoration that should be given to God. Some people have asked if it means that the kingdoms of the world belong to the devil. The answer is that it is the kingdoms of darkness that are being referred to. Obviously the devil’s government operates on the basis of kingdoms and he was trying to buy the interest of our Lord Jesus Christ on some of the kingdoms while showing him their “glories”. We understand these kingdoms very well when we read St. Paul admonition to the Ephesians (6:11-12) to put on the whole armour of the Lord because the fight in view is against principalities and powers and rulers of darkness in this present age. The book of Revelation (12:12) goes further to pity the earth as the devil and his workers are on last minute raid on the whole earth.

Many people have suffered the loss of their souls to the devil in their search for power and influence by any way and manner. Actually one of the problems besieging the world today is the senseless search for dominant power over certain “kingdoms!”

 

  1. 3.  And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him “if your are the son of God throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge over you, to guard you.’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”: Here we see the devil quoting Psalm 91.Furthermore we see here the devil being persistent; the devil never relents, he keeps coming back! Here he repeats the phrase “if you are the Son of God” which formed part of the content of the first temptation; temptations will always come through your post, office, or rank!

Here the devil wanted Jesus Christ to take God for granted and to falsely apply His promises. God will give His angels charge over us; that is true, but when we need it not when we want it for self-aggrandizement. Very often we make this mistake of assuming that since God promised something to people in a certain context it must also be our portion irrespective of our commitment with God and obedience to His words. For instance someone who goes to lie down on the express road (freeway) while holding on the word of God in Psalm 118: 17, which says: “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord” may not live to recount what would happen. To this temptation our Lord replied using Deuteronomy (6:16), which says: “you must not put the Lord you God to the test”.

As we march into the Lenten period let us be aware that our commitment to God will undergo test and trails (Sirach 2:1). Temptations are sure to come so our readiness will avail us victory. The most plausible preparation is to be found always with a prayerful heart. St Peter would add to this by telling us to be sober and vigilant for our enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour and we must stand up to him strong in faith (1 Pet. 5:8).

May the grace of God guide and direct you throughout this period of lent and may you be victorious like our Lord in all trials. Happy Sunday and do have a blessed week ahead.  

Fr. Bonnie.

 

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