by Peter Paul Marcelo, BCBP Las Pinas
At the beginning of Lent, the Gospel tells us the story of Jesus spending 40 days of prayer and penance in the desert to prepare himself for His mission. The desert is a harsh and dangerous environment. It offers unique set of perils for the ignorant and unaware. Some of the dangers associated with staying in the desert include heat exhaustion, jagged rocks, cliffs, getting lost, and the wild creatures that live there. It does not surprise us that Jesus encountered the most dangerous desert beast of all, the devil. But what’s puzzling is why Jesus allowed the devil to disrupt his peaceful solitude and does this so openly.
There are many forms of temptations. The devil picked three for someone who is starving in the desert and someone who is expected to be King. These temptations were truly appropriate for Jesus. He says “Wouldn’t you like a piece of bread about now?” I don’t know about you but I’d be darned if after starving for days I wasn’t only drooling on a thought of a burger. The devil knows our weaknesses. He uses temptations that are appropriate to us.
Every time Jesus was tempted, he responds with Scriptures. So guess what is stronger than temptation? It’s the Word of God. We learn this in our Spiritual Warfare talks.
So, we look at Jesus. There he is in the desert, starving and perhaps a bit dizzy, and yet he quotes Scripture. Having been raised a good Jew, Jesus knows the Old Testament (it wasn’t called old back then. It was still fresh and new) well enough to be able to respond.
Two centuries later, here we are. We have better technology and ways to get Scriptures into our lives. We can keep it in our smartphones and tablets. We can download it for free from the internet. We can have Bibles in every room in the house. The Word of God is more accessible than ever. But do we, as Catholics, know well the Word of God?
Remember when we pray, “lead us not into temptation”? Well, nobody needs to lead us there because temptations surround us already. They are everywhere. Even if we stayed in our house all year round, there will be temptations. So, one of our goals in the Christian life is not to be without temptation, because that will never happen, but to learn how to overcome them.
The devil will come to us not like a hungry wolf, but more like a salesman. He will deceive and entice us into sin. When he comes and tempts us, know that we, as a sons and daughters of God, already possess something better. When the devil tempted Jesus with bread, Jesus said, “bread? I don’t need bread? I’m the bread of life.” When the devil tempted Him with kingdom and power, Jesus said, “I don’t need that. I’m the Son of God!” These are the things we should be saying when the devil tempts us.
Let me give some typical examples. Let us say we are in a married relationship and we are tempted by someone else who is attractive. We should be saying, “I don’t need that. I got a loving wife/husband at home. I have a commitment in my life which is far better”. Perhaps we are tempted by gambling where we can earn lots of money. We should be saying, “I don’t need that. I got something better. I have a steady job and life insurance”. Perhaps we are tempted by pornographic materials. We should be saying, “I don’t need that. I got something better than looking at porn and getting temporary pleasures. It’s looking at Jesus and receiving the eternal pleasures of purity.” This is how we should be reacting when the devil tries so sell us something.
In these examples, did I quote Scriptures? Maybe not. But the Word of God is truth and we do have something better in Jesus Christ. No matter our financial situation or relationships are like. We do have something better than whatever the devil is tempting us with.
Catholics, among the many Christian groups, do have a reputation of not reading the bible. Maybe we cannot quote chapters and verses just like Jesus did, but it is not a reason for us not to start. Let us strive to learn a little more about the Holy Scriptures. Why don’t we let God’s words come into our lives a little bit more than it does? We are, in fact, being challenged to be able to beat the devil by having God’s word a little closer to us than it is today however we choose to do that. Learning Scriptures also means placing all our trust in Jesus because we know we would achieve very little by ourselves.
In the desert, Jesus submits himself to the test, letting the devil have his way, so as to show us the example of humility and to teach us how to overcome temptations that we are going to have to encounter in the course of our daily lives.