Monday, March 14, 2011
Temptations of Christ
The devil is a stone-cold liar.
This Sunday's first reading proves it. God had provided a paradise for Adam and Eve with all types of fruit trees to satisfy their hunger. They had dominion over the whole earth. No other person since has had as much power over the world as God had given to Adam and Eve. Along with all that, they enjoyed an intimate friendship with God. They saw Him face to face and talked with Him as with a friend. However, in his cunning, the serpent whispers to Eve that God has held something back from them. Even with all the wonders of creation at their disposal, he convinced her that there was something that God hadn't told them. There was a fine print they hadn't read. According to the serpent, all they needed to do was taste the forbidden fruit, and it would all become clear to them. We know the rest of the story. From then on, the goods of creation which were freely bestowed on Adam and Eve and the dominion over that creation are now only available to us through the "sweat of our brow." However, no amount of toil and striving could recapture for us our greatest loss - that personal, face-to-face intimacy with God. The serpent cheated Adam and Eve out of it through the lie that God was holding something back from them.
The gospel, however, tells a different story. From the lush garden of paradise, we are taken to the arid deserts of the blazing hot Middle East. Finding Jesus at his weakest after forty days of fasting, the devil decides to strike. As he did with Adam and Eve, he wants Jesus to believe that God is holding something back from him, that He hasn't told him the whole story. But Jesus is not so quick to believe his lies. Jesus knows that bread cannot satisfy the deepest longing of his heart which is intimate union with his Father. Jesus knows that the devil has no power to grant him the kingdoms of the earth. The devil is trying to convince Jesus that, alone in the desert with nothing to eat, the Father has abandoned him. It's a temptation that would later revisit Jesus on the cross when he cries out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Like the crowds taunting Jesus at his crucifixion, the devil wants Jesus to use his power to save himself without suffering hunger, want and, ultimately, death. But Jesus knows that the Father is with him always even when he suffers. Because of His confidence in God, Jesus can dismiss the devil and his lies. He will not use his power to make a comfortable life for himself or to prove himself to others. Jesus will not believe that he is abandoned by his Father in the desert of his human existence.
Even with Jesus' victory over temptation, the devil has not stopped lying. He can't help it. He continues to lie to us when he tells us that God has abandoned us and doesn't care for us. He lies to us when he tells us that the Church is just a bunch of old guys who never had any fun and don't want you to either. He lies to us when he says that money, food, alcohol, sex, power, fame or status are the solution to the pain and emptiness we carry in our bellies. The devil lies to us when he says that he - and not God - can tell us the whole story about our lives. The devil lies to us so that he can rob us of the gifts that God wants to give us.
Probably the devil's biggest lie is that we are too far gone to be forgiven, that we have wandered too far off for God to find us. Jesus' life, death and resurrection are a testament to the truth that, when we recognize our sin and commit ourselves to living our faith with renewed innocence, we are forgiven. Jesus would not have gone to the lengths he did, he would not have suffered and deprived himself of as much as he did, if we were not worth the effort in His eyes. And He is not about to give up on us now.
The truth is that Jesus came into the world to save us, every one of us. The truth is that God works tirelessly to get us to notice Him and to accept His love into our lives. The truth is that God wants to shower us with grace upon grace, to carry with us whatever burden life may impose and to transform our lives so that they shine with the brilliance of His joy. And the truth is that no one can take that away from us unless we allow them to.
(image by Rohann Zulienn)