1st Sunday of Lent. February 14, 2016.
Dt. 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
Fighting temptations as God’s beloved
I stood greeting worshippers after my first Mass just a day after my priestly ordination. The parishioners all offered words of congratulations and encouragement to me, “Congratulations,” “God bless you in your priesthood.” One elderly woman had a completely different message for me, “I will always pray for you because Satan is going to come after you now more than ever.” I understood what she meant and I thanked her for her words of wisdom and holiness and above all for her prayers. Strangely, among all those comments on that day, I have had to frequently recall her words most in the past years during moments of temptations and trials.
There are many possible reasons why we face temptations in life. But one reason that we are reluctant and sometimes unwilling to accept is that we are tempted because we are pleasing to God.
The biblical story of Tobit sheds light on this difficult reason behind our temptations. Tobit has just gone through a harrowing experience. He was among those led into captivity by the Assyrians. He had lost his country, national freedom and property, and his countrymen in exile with him mocked him for his faithfulness in doing good deeds like burying the dead. He lost his sight when birds’ droppings fell into his eyes and he was bitterly taunted by his wife. After he had regained his sight, the Angel Raphael explained to him the reason behind his ordeal in these words, “And because you were pleasing to God, it was necessary that you should be tried by temptation.”(Tob 12:13)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Tobit faces such temptations because he is pleasing and acceptable to God because of his charitable deeds, how much more we who are children of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and bearers of the Spirit of God? We, as God’s children, are much more pleasing to God and thus are much more worthy of being tempted because we are radically pleasing to God. We are radically pleasing to God not because of the good things that we do but simply because we have been lovingly chosen before the foundation of the world in Jesus Christ. We are truly pleasing to God because we have been graciously chosen in Christ, “the beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased.”
Two attitudes flow out of having this conviction that we are pleasing to God – complete dependence on God alone for all things at every moment of our lives and a determination to please Him alone in all things. We have that unshakable confidence in God in all things and we strive to please Him and not ourselves or any other creature in what we do. It is impossible for us to overcome temptations in this life if we are not grounded on the truth that we are indeed pleasing to God in Jesus Christ and thus must respond with dependence on Him for everything and a resolute striving to please Him alone in all things.
We see these two attitudes in today’s Gospel passage on the temptation of Jesus. In complete fidelity to His public mission from the Father, Jesus had just humbly received baptism from John the Baptist in the Jordan when the Father declared, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit that descended upon Him in the form of a dove “led Him into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” The tempter prefaces the temptations with these words, “If you are the Son of God” because they are all aimed at tempting Him to prove in a warped way that He is the beloved Son. He is being tempted to prove that He is something apart from being the beloved of the Father, the one in whom the Father was well pleased.
Jesus’ victory over these temptations reflects his absolute conviction that He is pleasing to the Father no matter the conditions that He faces in life. He knows He is pleasing to the Father whether He has bread to eat in the desert or not, so He does not have to change the stones to bread as the tempter suggests. He knows He is pleasing to the Father whether He has worldly glory or not, hence He does not have to worship the tempter to gain power and glory. He knows He is pleasing to the Father whether the angels serve Him or not, hence He does not need to throw Himself down from the parapet of the Temple to compel the angels to serve or protect Him. Knowing that He is ever pleasing to the Father, Jesus depends on the Father and acted always to please the Father and never Himself. Though He had the power to do all that the tempter suggests, in the words of St. Paul, “Jesus did not please Himself.”(Rom 15:3)
The First Reading is the Thanksgiving ceremony of the Israelites in the Promised Land. They first of all declare that they too have been found pleasing to God throughout their history before they present their firstfruits of the soil. Despite their infidelity to God, it was God who delighted in them first, sending the Patriarch Israel to Egypt, making them strong and numerous in Egypt, bringing them out of Egypt “with His strong hand and outstretched arm,” and then bringing them into the Promised Land. Their believe in their being pleasing to God move them to be faithful in worshipping God in the Promised Land no matter their past infidelities in their sojourn in the wilderness.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the moment that we make a conscious decision to forget self and to please the Lord in any way, to follow His precepts and the inspirations of divine grace, to love others like He has loved us, to serve God with all our hearts, we will surely be tempted by the devil and by human beings, often by the ones whom we love most. We are tempted because we are pleasing to God. The temptations that we face today are God’s rewards for our striving to be faithful to Him in the past. In addition, the purpose of today’s temptations is to make us more pleasing to Him in the future because they cause us to exercise ever deeper trust in God and to do all things with an ever purer motive of pleasing God alone. Temptations serve to deepen our trust in God and not in self and cause us to act more out of pure love for God. This is how we become more pleasing to Him through temptations.
In Jesus Christ alone, we are forever pleasing to God. In Christ Jesus, we too are going to be tempted all through our lives as He was tempted all through His life. Jesus was tempted even on the Cross to prove His divine sonship in a warped way, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross… and we will believe in you.” (Mt 27:40,42) Even as He bore our sins then on the Cross, Jesus never doubted that He was pleasing to the Father; hence He did not have to come down from the Cross to prove Himself to His executioners. Jesus Christ alone instills in us the truth that being children of God does not mean immunity from temptations or trials. Rather, being pleasing to the Father in Him, we will be constantly tempted so as to become more pleasing to Him by a radical dependence on God alone and a firm resolve to please Him in all things.
By our sacramental union with Jesus today in Holy Communion, we are made more pleasing to the Father. In the words of Sir 2:1, “If you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.” We shall surely be tempted. At moment of temptations, let us never think that we have been forsaken by God or that we are no longer pleasing to Him. On the contrary, let us turn with complete confidence to Him who “was tempted like us in all things yet without sin,” (Heb 4:15) and who assures us, “I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33) We shall begin to overcome all temptations in life when we respond with greater dependence on God alone and a greater determination to please Him in all things and if we never forget that we are forever pleasing to God as His beloved in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!