In the 1930s, a pastor and his wife lived on almost nothing. One day he came home and his wife was wearing a gorgeous dress. “Where did you get that dress?” he asked. “I bought it today.” He then asked, “How much did it cost?” “Ten dollars.” The pastor smacked his head with his hand and yelled, “We don’t have that kind of money!”
His wife hung her head and said quietly, “I know, but the devil made me to do it.” “When that happens,” the pastor shouted, “you’re supposed to say, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ ”
“I did,” she said. “And he said, ‘Looks good from back here too!’ ”
As we listen to the gospel today describing Jesus being tempted by the devil, most of us would say we have not been presented with such a dramatic moment of decision. Our experience of the devil is mostly theoretical. Yet, in our relationship with God, even though we usually are clear about what is right and good in a certain situation, we look for a reason to justify acting in a way contrary to what God would want because we want something different.
Sometimes we get distracted by what we have and what we are able to do. When the devil suggests that people will follow Jesus if he will turn stones into bread, he forgets that finding meaning in our life is not about having a full stomach or a nice car or a roof over our head. Our life becomes richer as we love others and receive their love in return, as we forget our self and share our time or our possessions with someone in need, blessing them as God has blessed us. The real purpose of everything we have is to remind us of God’s loving care for us and to invite us to join him in using our things to create a better world.
Then the devil suggests Jesus will be more effective if he does something dramatic to gain the attention of others – try jumping off the roof of the Temple. But, the message of Jesus will be one of self-denial and accepting the Cross and serving others. So often we look for the easier way – flattering someone so they will like us, pointing out the faults of another so that our shortcomings will not be noticed. It is more convenient to pretend we did not see the person in need than to engage them in conversation and offer our help. We don’t often try to force people to pay attention to us, but we certainly hope to gently nudge them to do what we want. But Jesus invites us to join him on the more difficult way that leads us to forget our self and embrace our splinter of the Cross.
The last temptation was the worst – the devil suggests that if he will worship him, he will hand over to Jesus all the kingdoms and power in the world. All Jesus had to do was close his eyes to the evil the devil represented, and the people would come. We never hope to gain so much, but we don’t find it that hard to ignore the evil. As our friends tear apart the reputation of another, we join in because to stand up against them might cost us our standing with the group. We are inspired to gather our family every day for a time of quiet prayer, but soon the good intentions give way to schedules and complaints from the older children. We don’t have to embrace great evil to let many little opportunities to do good pass us by.
It is a remarkable fact that God has such confidence in us that he has given us the power to honor our relationship with him by choosing to only do what is pleasing to him. Temptations come our way, but if we choose to turn away from the good, the blame belongs to us. During this first week of Lent, our challenge is to seek to live each day in harmony with God, making sure that we only choose to think, speak and act in a way that reflects what God created us to be – his loving and faithful child.
–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk