The story is told about a son who told his father: “Dad, I just read that in some parts of Africa, a man does not know his wife until he marries her.” The father said: “Son, that happens in most other countries, too!”
In today’s Gospel (Mt. 4, 1-11), Jesus reminds us to know the tempter we are dealing with, and not be deceived by his tricks and enticements. Yes, let us be vigilant. Let us be careful. Let us not be deceived.
The first thing to accept is that temptation is everywhere, and, second, that we are weak. So when temptation comes, we must flee immediately. The longer we linger, the more chance that we will falter. And when temptation comes, we must pray intensely. Flee and pray—that’s how we should deal with temptations that come our way.
For most of us, just seeing a snake gives us the creeps. But, there are people who charm snakes, and even sleep with snakes! Some people have become so comfortable with the enemy that they live, and even sleep with, the enemy. Without knowing it, they have become one with the enemy, and have become one of the agents of the enemy.
Which side are you on? All temptations involve a choice between good and evil. If we choose goodness, we are on God’s side. If we choose sin, we are on the enemy’s side. We believe in the basic goodness of every person. We believe that we are weak, we fall, but we are not rotten. That’s how God sees each one of us. God believes in us, and does not give up on us.
The evil one is the master of lies, half-truths and manipulations to bring people to his side. His easiest access to us is through our five senses and the satisfaction of our physical desires: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” If we look at the “best offers” from the tempter, they are all about pleasure, enjoyment, comfort, and luxury. The Lenten discipline of fasting and abstinence reminds us that we have not only a body but also a soul. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The next spin of the tempter to bring people to his side is: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down… He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you…” The tempter knows how to make us feel insecure, and doubt God’s power and love. So he tempts us to find security in money, power, positions, and possessions. Before we know it, we have let go of God’s hand, and have ended up holding on to the empty promises of the evil one.
The third “offer” of the tempter is worldly wealth and power in exchange for our very soul: “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” This offer is very clear and direct. In every temptation, we have the choice to worship God or the evil one. May God give us the grace at such moments to say: “Begone, Satan! I choose to worship God, and Him alone I will serve.”
Aurelio “Piok” Bautista has gone home to the Father at the age of 92. Mission accomplished for this man who had so much passion for life, and so much compassion, especially for the poor. There are people with whom I had instant connection and bonding, and are like a father to me. Nicanor Jimenez was one, and Papa Piok was another. Someone once said: “If spiritual affinity cannot be found in a moment, it can never be found in a lifetime.”
This Lent let us not focus much on what we can give up, and focus more on what we can offer. Beyond giving up cigarettes, alcohol, or gambling for the next 40 days, why don’t we offer our pride, selfishness, and negativity instead? Why don’t we build our personal relationship with God instead of focusing on our traditions and “feel-good” practices?
Beyond the gadgets, soft drinks, meat, etc. that you are sacrificing to the Lord, what is it from your heart that you can offer Him? More than anything else, it is your heart that the Lord desires. Lent is the time for us to focus on our personal and committed relationship with Christ.
A moment with the Lord: Lord, help us to flee and pray when temptation comes our way. Amen.
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