Our own forty days in the desert

by May Tam
First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Romans 10:8-13

Luke 4:1-13

If the genealogy of Jesus in Luke's Gospel, which begins from His human origin “He was the son, as was thought of Joseph . . .” (Lk 3:23), is meant to underscore His human background; the temptations in today's Gospel reading further prove the reality of His human nature – “He had to become like His brothers in every way. . . because He Himself was tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2:17-18). But many would say that Jesus' temptations are not our temptations: turning stones into bread, possessing the whole world or jumping off safely from a building. Though it is true and we cannot be tempted to do what is impossible for us, each of us does have our own desert story to tell; for in a broader sense, Satan's tests of Jesus are our everyday trials as well.

Our desert experience may not be so much about turning stones into bread, but the desire of seeking to live in ease and comfort. In other words, the temptation of sensuality. While it is right to look after our corporal necessity, attachment to physical pleasure, worldly luxury and self-gratification would easily make us lose our supernatural insight – that of following the way of the Cross which is the way to salvation. Jesus' words from Deuteronomy 8:3 remind us of the spiritual aspect of our earthly lives. We are not asked to be indifferent to our bodily needs, but we have to put things in their proper orders.

Likewise, our desert experience may not be so much about owning the entire world, but the fantasy of having power and success. Though not everyone can obtain power or be successful, oftentimes we admire those who have acquired them. In one way or another, we may want to acquire things that satisfy our vanity, for example, wealth, fame, beauty, etc. In other words, the temptation of idolatry – for these are the idols (not necessarily other gods) that we adore. Jesus' words from Deuteronomy 6:13 remind us that God alone is the real power and the everlasting glory; all others are illusive and temporal. He is the only one that we should adore.

Finally, our desert experience may not be so much about landing safely from a height, but the attempt to wane the reality of God's existence. In other words, the sin of dubiety. It stems from arrogance and presumption. The arrogance to request proofs from God that He exists and the presumption of trying God according to our subjective will. “He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty” and “We alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do” (Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI). Jesus' words from Deuteronomy 6:16 remind us that God is God, the supreme sovereignty; He is not an object to be manipulated by us.

It is not difficult to see that the root cause of these temptations is the lack of love for God. Because of such lack of love for Him, we relegate His words, we downgrade His importance and we prioritize everything else except that of God. We no longer believe anything as real unless we can see, grasp and test. Jesus teaches us the way to conquer temptations is to keep God's presence always in us by knowing Him well through the Scriptures, by remembering His love for us and by denouncing anything that lures us away from God, especially the rationalizations and excuses that disguise our real intentions. Temptations are like litmus papers, revealing the depth of our faith and love in God. Let us be humble and pray for the grace to overcome them.