In this Gospel about temptation, there is another “temptation” – to dismiss it as a fairy tale, or as something that has no direct relation to us. In a world that makes movies about possession in order to scare us, that dresses us up as devils and angels on Halloween, and uses the word “evil” to describe so many things, the true importance of this Gospel can be drowned out.
But, this Gospel really does cut to the heart of human experience, because it speaks about those things in our lives that are not as they should be:
The tempting of Jesus today, in fact, centers on what seem to be three ways in which we find ourselves separated from right relationship with God.
The three temptations of Jesus: food, using God’s power for his own glory, and the achievement of total power over all the kingdoms of the world, touch on the human need for stuff, acknowledgment of our works and identities, and our thirst for control over our own destinies.
And let’s not kid ourselves: these temptations don’t come in the form of a red man with horns and a pitchfork.
They do, however, come to us: these temptations come in the desire to take more than is ours – whether it be extra office supplies at work, overbilling a client, or making sure we’re first in line to get what is ours in our families.
The desire for acknowledgement seeps into our lives as we gossip about others, trying to bring them down, to raise ourselves up, or those awkward moments in which we want everyone to know about a good deed we did for someone else.
The want to control our own destiny sneaks in our lives through the cutting of corners in our relationships with one another: we try to subtly manipulate those around us, using fear or emotions to get the best of someone else.
I can’t think of a better Gospel with which to start Lent, precisely because the temptations faced by Jesus are still so real – and likely always will be.
We can sum up all these temptations in a neat package by turning to our first reading from Genesis that tells one of the most basic stories of our faith: Adam and Eve disobeying God, grasping at the fruit of the tree, and so attempting to make themselves like God.
This is, I think, the great temptation: the one that sums everything else up: grasping.
Grasping describes the entire story of how we go astray: we try to take more stuff than we can use, we claw after more recognition than we deserve, we try to take our destinies into our own hands, not caring upon whom we step. And where are we left? Out of the Garden and in a series of conflicts with those we love most.
We start off the season of Lent by acknowledging these temptations and recognizing that we have fallen – often. We aren’t perfect – and the fact that we’re all here right now means that in one way or another we’ve recognized this.
The major project of Lent, then, is to open our hands from our grasping: to give away, to give up, and to give in to the overwhelming power of God.
The truth is that through our force of will we may make some progress for a time – we may be able to resist temptation, nothing that we do is going to keep us out of temptation for ever.
And so, what to do?
I think – and this may sound obvious – is the reality that we need to open our hands from that which we are grasping and instead grasp onto Jesus! That is the only way: because when we hold onto to Jesus, even when we fall, He picks us back up, even when we stray, we pulls us back to him. In this Lent, Jesus opens his hands and asks us to take hold!
How do we grasp onto to Jesus?
The answer is simple. We need to talk and listen. For this Lent, I would propose that each of us recommit ourselves to spending time in the morning with Jesus – take the iPods out of ears on the trip to the bus, turn down the radio on the drive into work, flip off the TV for a few minutes on the treadmill ask talk to Jesus. And then in the evening, let’s take another few minutes to let Jesus talk to us – let him tell us about where we are going, about whom we are meeting.
This Lent, opening our hands and letting go of that which tempts us may not be easy: in fact, we’ll never get rid of all temptation. But, if we focus on grasping onto Jesus, we may be surprised about some of the other things that we let go!