The religious significance of the three places where Jesus was tempted in the Gospel (wilderness, temple, and mountain) tells us something about temptations. The wilderness is considered a prime place to face temptation because it is considered a land inhabited by evil spirits (Lk 11:24), a place of punishment for sins (Mt 23:38), and a place of testing in our fidelity to God. But the Jerusalem temple is another kind of place all together. The temple is the sign of God’s presence among His people and the place where the people encountered God. Lastly, the mountain is seen as a unique place where God reveals Himself (as in Horeb in Ex. 3:15) as well as a unique place of encountering and worshipping God. Unlike the desert, the temple and mountain do not signify in any way places of temptations.
So Jesus, the beloved Son of God, was tempted in both the most likely (desert) and the most unlikely places (temple and mountain). Why? To teach us that no matter how close we are to God, no matter where we are, we cannot escape all temptations. Those annoying temptations follow us everywhere we go. We cannot wish them away or pray them away. Choosing to yield to these temptations and indulge in sin does not make them go away but only increases the intensity of the temptations. What then are we to do in a world of constant temptation? Flight alone is obviously not enough but we must learn from Jesus’ example and prepare ourselves always for the temptations to come because they will surely come.
Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan where the Father confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Jesus did not get complacent but entered into a prolonged time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the temptations that were to take place in the most likely and unlikely places. This is the lesson we learn from His temptations in Sunday’s Gospel.
By baptism, we are now one with Christ, sharing in His life, His sufferings, His temptations and ultimately, His victory over sin and death. Jesus is victorious so that we too can be victorious. We are now so close to God as His children, but, like Jesus Christ, no matter how closely united we are to God, we too will be tempted in the most likely and unlikely places in this life. We cannot avoid all temptations but we must prepare ourselves for coming temptations.
Adam and Eve received from God existence, life breath, and “all that was delightful to look at and good for food.” They had a loving relationship with God. God’s gifts and His closeness to them were meant to prepare them for the temptations to come. God did not prevent the “most cunning of all the animals” from approaching and tempting His beloved creatures. In that place of so much peace, beauty and happiness, despite the closeness of God to His creatures, temptations to sin prevailed over our first parents. How could we ever hope to live in this world without facing temptations?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in times of tranquility, when we are not being tempted, we must constantly prepare ourselves for the temptations that are sure to come. We cannot flee from every temptation in this life. The saints reminded us to constantly prepare for temptations to come. Allow me to share with you five ways in which we can be constantly prepared to face temptations whenever and wherever they come.
The first way is to live a life of constant prayer. Constant prayer instills in us a sense of God’s presence with us at all times, even at the times of temptation. After 40 days of prayer, Jesus was surely aware of the Father’s loving presence and His will for Him during His temptations and He faced His temptations with that consciousness. In addition, we must pray before, during and after temptations. We pray before temptations so that “we will not enter into temptations.” (Mk 14:38) We pray during the temptations to make contact with the sufficient grace needed to overcome the temptation. We pray after the temptation to thank God for the victories and to beg pardon for the failures during temptation. Even in failures, we can thank God for not allowing us to fall more than we actually did. Such humility and gratitude for little victories opens us more to God’s graces to fight future temptations.
Secondly, we must go beyond merely reading the bible but ask ourselves how deeply we believe in God’s words and promises to us about temptations. How deeply do we believe that “God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it?” (1Cor10:13) Do we rejoice in times of temptations because it is a sure path to perfection? (James 1:2) If we do not believe in God’s words to us, we will be helpless against temptations. Jesus’ temptations show us that the devil knows scripture and how to twist it to his agenda. Jesus, the eternal Word, knew the scriptures well as well as its deepest meaning. The word of God was His food. Do we nourish ourselves on the word of God and interiorize it?
Thirdly, we must regularly partake of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. Jesus once warned us that the unclean spirits, whose dominion over us is terminated at baptism, returns with “seven other spirits worse than himself” and easily re-enters into a place that he finds “empty, swept and put in order,” (Mt 12:43-45) but unoccupied. We must let Jesus who liberates us to fill us with His presence through Communion if we are going to prevail over temptations. The Sacrament of Confession avails us forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name but also gives us light to see the deeper roots of sin within us so that we can uproot it completely. With frequent reception of these sacraments with the right disposition, we are prepared to overcome temptations.
Fourth, we must develop and maintain a lively relationship with our Immaculate Mother Mary because she is the New Eve who has the mission of crushing Satan’s head. The serpent’s victory over God’s creatures in Eden began with the failure of the woman Eve. Eve fell before Adam and made it easy for Adam to fall. Likewise, Jesus’ victory over sin began with the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her obedience of faith in giving us the God-Man. As St. Louis De Montfort exclaimed, “I have Jesus in my soul thanks to Mary.” Our Immaculate Mother has intense hatred for sin and an undying love for the sinner. With a loving dependent relationship with Mary, we begin to develop a great hatred for sin as well as a refusal to give up in the battle with temptation. We must never underrate the power of Mary in dealing with temptations.
Lastly, we must learn from our past failures in temptations. We must constantly reflect on what the temptation promises us at the beginning and what it actually gives after we have succumbed. We must reflect on the expectations of happiness from the temptation and the guilt, shame and regret that lingers long after the temptation has prevailed. We must then note our points of weakness and prepare for the next temptation in that area. Without this self knowledge from reflection on past temptations, we will not be prepared for coming temptations.
St. Paul reminds us that through one man, Adam, “sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” But “the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” We encounter Jesus, the sole victor over sin and death, in this Eucharist. He does not come to shield us from all temptations; but that we share in His victory. Jesus makes us one with Him and with His Father in the One Spirit. In the Eucharist, we cannot be closer to the Triune God here on earth even as we live in a world of constant temptations. But we too must prepare ourselves for the temptations to come.
May we leave this Mass today with renewed courage and divine assurance that we have been adequately prepared to face every single temptation in both likely and unlikely places.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!