What I learnt from Temptation

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year C. 2019
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London  


A comedian once remarked that he can resist anything except temptation. Temptation is a common human experience. It is not necessarily bad to be tempted since temptation is a test of our fitness for a purpose.

In this Sunday’s Gospel for instance, it was the Spirit of God that led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil; the purpose is clearly not to lead him to do evil but as a testing of his fitness for his coming mission. Jesus rose to the occasion unlike our First Parents (Adam and Eve) who failed. We can therefore draw some lessons from Jesus for our own day.

First of all, notice the Devil’s entry behaviour (how he started); how he first applies psychology to plant a seed of doubt in his client’s mind.

Twice in the Gospel, he dares Jesus “if you are indeed the Son of God … then do this or that”. Recall how he also used the same psychology on Eve by asking her “Did God actually say you should not eat of the fruit of this tree….” And before she knew it, she began to have second thoughts on what she was previously convinced about.

Another comedian recalled that going through the immigration at the airport, sometimes how they keep gazing at you and your passport picture, you will begin to doubt if you are really yourself.

Be careful therefore when people start questioning your convictions, especially your religious convictions. The devil might be at work. They can even quote the Bible to support their position. Do not be deceived because even the Devil does exactly the same, quoting the Bible out of context to support a position.

He asked Jesus to jump from the tower of the temple and quoted Psalm 91 which says that ‘if you have made the Lord your refuge He will send His Angels to hold you so that you won’t strike your foot against a stone’. How clever! From psychology the Devil moves to spirituality.

A crucial lesson for us here is that not all ideas are well intended irrespective of how spiritually or logically they are presented. That is how some useless and even harmful products are advertised in very attractive packages and with very enticing messages. Meanwhile, while God promises his providential care in the normal course of our lives, He never promises miraculous intervention when we do something stupid like jumping from a dangerous height. God helps those who help themselves.

Another important point to note is that the Devil is a shrewd opportunist who tempts you with what you desperately desire. He knew that having fasted for forty days, Jesus would be very hungry so he came asking Jesus to turn stones into bread. We must therefore be very careful whenever we are desperate for something because then we become so vulnerable towards that desire hence open to manipulation. If a young man is desperate to make money, he better be careful because it is then that he will be presented with ‘business proposals’ that will eventually destroy him. If a lady is desperate to get married, she better watch it because soon monsters from the underworld will disguise in three-piece suits to propose to her.

Meanwhile, the test of turning stones into bread relates to how we use our God-given gifts and talents. The tendency is to use our gifts to make a living for ourselves. But St. Paul tells us that spiritual gifts are given to the individual “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus would later on in his ministry multiply bread to feed others. But he would not do it to feed himself.

Do we see our talents and abilities, our jobs and professions, as a means to serve others also or simply as a means to make a living for ourselves alone?

The Devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their riches and made the shocking claim that they all belonged to him. Yet, what is more disturbing is that Jesus did not dispute that claim. In fact, recall that before Pilate Jesus clearly stated that his Kingdom is not of this world. Hence, Jesus may just have admitted that there is something ‘devilish’ about power and wealth otherwise how else can one make sense of the evil that goes on in the world because of power and wealth; the hypocrisy and corruption at the highest levels of leadership, the fuelling of wars to sell arms, the genocides committed to get into or cling unto power, the sex slavery and trafficking of vulnerable people to make money, the selfish sabotage of national institutions while the masses die in need, the sustained exploitation and underdevelopment of nations. You can name them!

The Devil did not stop at making the shocking claim, he went further to assure Jesus that he could have these Kingdoms and their riches if only Jesus could fall at his feet and worship him.

Once again, the Devil comes to you with what you desire. Of course Jesus desires to bring all the kingdoms of the world into his own Kingdom of justice, love and peace. That was why he came. But can we pursue our goals by any means whatsoever? Does the end justify the means? Does it make sense that the whole world submits to Jesus as Lord only for Jesus to submit himself to the Evil One.

Jesus therefore rejects the short-cut offered by the devil. Yet, that is the bargain we constantly try to make: to belong to God on the one hand and then go to any lengths, no matter how questionable, to get the things we want: material wealth, success, status etc. Jesus will put it differently later on: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

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