Once upon a time, a young adult came to consult with me over some biblical issue that she considered confusing. She asked the following questions among others: “why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin?” “Didn’t He know (as all-knowing God) that the serpent would come to tempt Eve and why could He not have stopped that snake?”
In my answer, I explained to her that God had already given them an instruction:
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die. (Gen.2:16b-17).
Furthermore, I explained to her that God gave them free will to choose either to eat or not to eat; to obey or not to obey. If God had intervened at that time the serpent was prodding Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, then free will would not have played any role.
The phenomenon of temptation is a facility that is open to everyone that has attained the age of reason. It is the urge, incitement or inclination to sin; we can also see it as a test of our ability to resist the invitation to sin. In order words, temptation precedes every sin.
To be tempted, there must be an agreement between the senses and the mind. A Temptation becomes sin when the mind accepts it. The mind is the central processor in every human being with reason; it is a very powerful determinant of our lives. Temptations appeal to the senses and urge the mind to accept the invitation. Let us examine this description from the narrative of the First Reading today (Gen. 2:7-9;3:1-7).
The first temptation site is the garden of Eden. Eve was by herself when suddenly the serpent appeared and opened up a prodding conversation. Somewhere I read that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” There is truth in that assertion. If we could recall, David’s temptation came when he was idling away around the palace towers while the Israelites were at war. It was at the idle moment that his eyes caught a woman taking her bath (2 Sam.11:1ff).
The talking serpent asked Eve tricky question: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” From the last time we checked, God told them to eat the fruits of all the trees apart from the one at the middle of the garden. Often temptations come to us in the form of open-ended questions that may raise confusions in our minds.
While Eve was trying to explain the divine instructions, the serpent invited her to take a closer look at the fruit. At the sight of it, her mind accepted the offer of the serpent who claimed that they would not die if they ate the fruit. The serpent knew that God meant spiritual death which is the separation from God but Eve could have thought about physical death. Moreover, the serpent told her that their eyes would open to know good and evil.
The sense of sight is a very powerful inlet for temptation. We all like to see and seeing could turn us on or off. In this case, Eve was highly attracted by what she saw, and she went ahead to touch and taste; sin was committed and sealed. The same thing happened with Adam, he saw, took and ate. Someone asked me some time ago: “what could have happened if Adam refused to ate the forbidden fruit after Eve had eaten”? We can leave the answer to this to our individual imaginations.
The temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of today (Matt.4:1-11), discloses the highest form of temptation. The devil went beyond limits to tempt the Second Person of the Trinity, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Ancient of Days.
The threefold temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate to us that nobody is beyond temptation. Furthermore, they help us to learn the tactics of the devil when he wants to lure us into sin. From them also we learn how to handle temptations or put in another way, how to resist the devil.
The devil can only tempt you with what you need. From the temptations, we discover three basic needs that could become channels of temptations for us.We shall pay attention to then chronologically as they are presented in the Gospel today.
1.Command these stones to become loaves of bread if you are the Son of God.
That our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God is not a subject for debate. The devil challenges you to sin by presenting a false picture of your position. He was hungry, and the devil wanted him to perform magic not a miracle for his immediate need. Our Lord Jesus Christ multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish for the hungry crowd, not for himself. (Matt. 14: 15-21 and John 6: 4-13). Most of the things we want are not what we need. The devil knows we need some physical provisions and thus uses them as luring gifts to enslave us. Materialism is the devil’s point of sale (pos).
2.If you are the Son of God throw yourself down for it is written He will command his angels concerning you.
The second temptation insists on the Sonship position of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the devil wanted our Lord to take the promises of God for granted. When God promised protection in Psalm 91, He did not ask us to presume His protection and plunge ourselves into some risky behavior. Somewhere I read that a pastor asked his members to drink rat poison while assuring them that by God’s power none of them would die. He quoted Mark (16:17-18) where the signs that will follow believers included picking scorpions and drinking poison but remaining unhurt. After few days many of those who took the solution died.
The devil did not ask our Lord to jump up but to throw himself down. He knew that belongs to the down region and wanted our Lord to go down with him. We can recall from the book of Revelation (12: 9) that he was thrown down from heaven.
3. All these (kingdoms of the earth) I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.
Beyond temptation, this is an insult! Can you imagine our Lord Jesus Christ bowing to worship the devil? The devil’s kingdom has no real glories. They are citadels of darkness and sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to undo the powers of those kingdoms. St. Peter tells us that he has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The devil would always give a false promise as bait to lead us into sin.
Our theme for reflection says that we should resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). To do this, we are expected to submit ourselves to totally to the will of God. To submit ourselves to God means considering God first before doing anything as our Lord Jesus Christ did during the temptation episode. The devil has a mission which our Lord Jesus Christ spelt out very well in the Gospel of John (10:10a) “to steal, kill and destroy.” St. Peter enjoins us not the give him any opportunity (Eph.4:27) because he is always looking for one to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
Temptations would always come to confront us in various times, places occasions, and seasons. Let us remember the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading (Romans 5:12-19) today: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Though you may face temptations, resist the devil, and he will flee from you; do not be tampered!
Have a happy Sunday and a gracious week ahead.