I think we all understand what temptation is. Imagine there’s a little boy in a grocery store who walks by an open pack of peanut butter cookies. The clerk notices him eye the cookies. “What are you doing there?” “Nothing,” replied the boy. “It looks to me like you’re trying to steal a cookie.” “No,” said the boy, “I’m trying not to.” That’s temptation!
We understand that temptation leads to trouble. Such was the plight of the man that I read about in Reader’s digest. This man said he was shopping in the mall with his wife when a shapely young woman is a short, form-fitting dress walked by. He followed her with his eyes. Without looking up from the item she was examining his wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you are in?” That’s the trouble with temptation.
How many of us have shrugged and said, “The devil made me do it!” and used that as an excuse when caught doing something we weren’t supposed to? It’s a convenient defense. But there’s one problem: the devil can’t MAKE us do anything. He may be clever, but he’s not all powerful. It may feel that way, however, when we’re dangling on temptation’s hook, because the devil has a tried and true strategy for luring us into his net. First, he lays out the bait. He knows us like a skilled fisherman knows fish. He notes our habits, observes our hangouts; then he drops a custom-made lure right in front of our noses.
Then, comes the appeal. He can’t make us bite, but he does know what happens when we catch a glimpse of the tantalizing bait … like the snapshot promo on TV. We’re drawn in, we linger over it, we toy with the idea, roll it over in our minds until it consumes our imagination … we just HAVE to know what the gossip tid-bit was we overheard is all about.
Now the struggle really begins. Our conscience jabs us in the ribs, the red flags go up, the warning sirens go off but the invitation looks so delightful. What do we do?
Benedict knew about this, didn’t he? Remember in chapter 43 where he warns if the monastic comes late for chapel, if though ashamed, she should still come inside lest she be tempted to return to bed and sleep. Or, worse he says, settle down outside and engage in idle talk, thereby giving occasion to the Evil One. They should come inside so that they will not lose everything and may amend in the future.”
Either we will resist or yield, swim away or swallow the temptation whole. When you give in you know the feeling of emptiness and the pain that sticks in your neck. But, be alert when you do resist – be ready for the temptation to come from a different direction. However, when you’ve resisted you will know a feeling of freedom that envelopes you.
It seems there are three general kinds of temptations that our adversary still uses. He often tries to work his wiles on the heels of a spiritual high point in our life. Or it may come at a time of physical weakness, or when we’re are alone and are more susceptible to temptation – then be prepared for a major attack. Jesus experienced the devil’s temptation, just after his baptism and the Father’s affirmation; when he was hungry following his 40-day fast, when he was alone in the desert. Thus he could sympathize, no, – empathize with us,
This Gospel lesson alerts us to the dangers – the allurement of the devil – to be tempted to be independent – like a two-year-old’s “I’ll do it myself.” Or we may give into temptation to take the easy way out. It will be less suffering, no struggle, no sacrifice … why work to conquer our self-will when the world could be handed to you on a silver platter – give you a free ride?
The one thing common to all three of the temptations described is that Satan attempted to distract Jesus from his mission and to destroy his relationship with his Heavenly Father. You may have to fight the battle more than once to win it. Don’t give up! There is truth in the story of what Martin Luther said when he was asked how he overcame the devil. “When the devil comes knocking at the door of my heart, asking who lives there,” Jesus comes to the door says: “Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.” When Christ fills our lives Satan just has no entrance.
You may have learned this little ditty of a prayer as a child. It’s still a good one for nightly protection: I liken it to a child’s compline (evening prayer) –
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless this bed that I lie on.
Before I close my eyes in sleep,
I give my soul to Christ to keep.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels ’round my head,
One to watch, one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.
I go by sea, I go by land,
The Lord made me with his right hand,
If any danger come to me,
Sweet Jesus Christ, deliver me.
For he’s the branch and I’m the flower,
Pray God send me a happy hour,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.