On Friday 21st day of February 2014, a High Court sitting in Ikeja Lagos, Nigeria sentenced a man to death by hanging for killing his wife. The man (Akolade Arowolo) stabbed his Banker wife (Titilayo) severally to death following a domestic dispute on the 24th of June 2011. Following the judgement after found guilty on one count charge of murder, Akolade made a passionate plea for pardon while establishing the fact that IT WAS ALL THE WORK OF THE DEVIL.
Akolade is not alone in this attitude of passing the bulk to the devil as many people point accusing fingers at the devil as being responsible for their commissions and omissions. It could also be reasonable to say that the devil could have been “wrongfully” accused at some points. This disposition started in the Garden of Eden during the questioning following the sin of disobedience by Adam and Eve. Adam accused Eve as the proximate cause while Eve blamed the Serpent as the immediate cause.
Today we are presented with the reality of TEMPTATION which is a facility that is open to everyone; this means that temptation is part and parcel of our human experience. It is however different from sin or as we intend to see it here, being tampered. Hence we can surely be tempted but we choose to be tampered or not. From the first reading and the gospel we are presented with TEMPTATIONS directed at Adam and Eve and our Lord Jesus Christ respectively but while Adam and Eve chose to be tampered our Lord Jesus Christ was not tampered!
The season we have entered (Lent) reminds us the need to turn away from sin. However to be effective in doing this we must as a matter of expediency pay attention to the starting point of sin; namely through temptations. This actually means that temptation goes before sin and often it does not ring bell when it comes!
Temptation as a matter of fact starts from the five senses. This confirms the position of St. Thomas Aquinas that “there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses” (quid non intellectu quod non prius fueriut in sensu). To be cautious of falling into sin we need to be attentive to the subtlety of temptation emanating from the senses. An attentive study of the first fall and the temptation of Jesus Christ by the devil confirms the fact that our senses are windows for temptation.
In the Garden of Eden the serpent (representing the devil) asked Eve if God forbade them from eating of all the fruits in the garden. Here we see the devil rephrasing the instruction given by God. This is often the way of the devil especially in our modern age wherein many things have been rephrased to suit the life of sin and inattention to the word of God. We see some of these clearly in the arguments of pro-abortionists and pro-gay individuals and groups. We should be careful of these malicious rephrasing of the word of God. Answering, Eve said that they are actually free to eat of all the fruits apart from the one at the middle of the garden which they were forbidden from eating or even touching with the consequence of death if the instruction is breached.
Reacting to Eve’s answer, the devil told her that they will not die! (Here the serpent confused spiritual death with physical death). This is another distortion of the word of God; the devil is out always to oppose God and His words. The serpent went further to say that instead of dying, their eyes will open and they will be able to know good and evil. One of the destructive tendencies in our world is the unbridled quest for “secret” knowledge. This is the reason why many people dabble into unholy associations and occultism with the promises of “unimaginable knowledge and power” to manipulate people and things; all these are however machinations of the evil one that result in more destruction; the word of God says that those who choose another god multiply their sorrows (Psalm 16:4).
The word of the serpent had a strong effect on Eve (sense of hearing) and she finally forgot God’s instructions and followed that of the serpent. Eve went to SEE the fruit (sense of sight) and discovered that it was a delight to the EYES and she TOOK (sense of touch) the fruit and ATE (sense of taste and smelling), and gave some to her husband and then their eyes opened and they discovered that they were naked. At this point they lost the state of innocence which they had earlier. They were tempted and tampered!
In the gospel reading today we read about the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ by the devil. This story is well known to many of us as it presents some awe striking scenes like the peak of the highest mountain overlooking all the kingdoms of the earth, the arid desert and pinnacle of the great temple. Our Lord just concluded his forty days fasting and prayers when the devil came to tempt him. An attentive insight into the three temptations will be very helpful for our reflection:
1. If you are the son of God command these stones to become loaves of 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 comfortable. 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 but by every word that comes from the mouth of God!”
2. And he took him to the Holy City (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 the Psalms (91:11-12). 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 drinks a bottle of corrosive acid while holding on the word of God in Psalms (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”.
3. Again the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and he said to him: All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me” It is always a joyful thing for the devil to steal the worship and adoration that is due 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. In his letter to the Colossians (1:13) St. Paul made mention of our being transferred by God from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved son.
One of the greatest misfortune of our world today is the senseless search for meaningless and transitory “kingdoms!” These kingdoms are all around us; they are not decorated with bones and skulls but with the most attractive things we can imagine; not all that glitter are gold.
As we step further into this season of Lent let us be very conscious of the fact that temptations will come in various ways and degrees. Of course whenever we make a decision to serve God and live right we face the devil’s temptation. It is on account of this that the book of Sirach (2:1) says: “My child when you come to serve the Lord prepare yourself for testing”. Temptations are sure to come and through persons and things that appeal to us, but we are encouraged to stand firm like our Lord Jesus Christ in order not to be tampered!
Have a blissful first Sunday of Lent and a happy week ahead.