You remember Flip Wilson? Then you remember Geraldine, too. And, “the Devil made me do it”? Every time Geraldine’s husband accused her of doing something he considered wrong, her excuse was always the same: “It wasn’t me. The Devil made me do it.”
Many of us grew up hearing that catchphrase, and it affected the way some folks see the devil. They believe he has the power to “make” them do things. Cartoons depict him as a little guy with pointy ears, wearing a red suit, grasping a pitchfork, sitting on one shoulder, whispering in an ear. And meanwhile, there’s a little angel perched on the other shoulder, trying to counteract whatever temptation the devil is whispering. And in the cartoons, the devil usually wins.
But is that how temptation works? Is the devil really equally as powerful as God? Can he “make” us do anything we don’t want to do? The short answer is no. The truth is, the devil and temptation doesn’t have any power over us that we don’t allow them to have. We are assured of this in the Letter of John: (4:4) “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome the enemy of Christ, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
Some people question whether Jesus was actually tempted out there in the desert. According to Scripture, YES, Jesus was clearly tempted. In this gospel, Jesus was coming off a spiritual high point in His life. He had just been baptized. The Holy Spirit had descended on Him. He’d heard the voice of His Heavenly Father say, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased.” That’s when the devil tried to get His attention.
Granted, the devil can be persuasive, but for the temptation to work it requires the joining of desire and enticement. You’ve heard the advice to deter smash-and-grab theft of valuables from your car: lock your car and don’t leave valuables in sight. Or, it’s like a 4-year-old told me when asked why he had spit in his friend’s face, “I don’t rightly know: I thought of it – he was there – and I did it.”
You know from experience: the closer we are walking with God, the harder the devil will work to get us off track.
Pope Francis advises in a Lenten letter: “I’m not asking you to give up anything…if you spend your (Lent) in prayer, worship and sharing, you will know what you need to release from your life, and it will probably be something like worry or regret or rage rather than chocolate, soda, or bubble gum. Francis continues: What I am recommending is that you let Lent be a season of learning, growing and sharing and praying and worshiping. I promise you, if you will open yourself up to God in those ways, you will experience God so profoundly it will astound you.”
With assurance, we can pray an adaptation of the words of Psalm 78:
You bring forth your people like sheep, guiding them like a flock in the desert. You lead us to safety with nothing to fear and divide your heritage with us. You wake us from sleep and we remember your covenant. You tend us with integrity of heart and lead us with wisdom. Amen!
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey. OSB, Prioress
1st Reading Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
2nd Reading Romans 5:12-19
Gospel Matthew 4:1-11