The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread”…
When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
—Luke 4:1-4, 13
For most of us, this process of surrender is one which unfolds gradually over the course of a life of prayer, service, struggle, and even setbacks. However, the temptation to choose our own way and will over God’s is never far away.
That call to surrender to God’s mercy is at the core of the Christian life. And yet, at the same time, there is a struggle that takes place in every human heart: “Lent would indeed be a futile liturgical farce,” writes Edna Hong, “if the redeemed were henceforth sinless and if the tides of human nature were not always moving even the twice-born [the baptized], who have not shed their human nature, in the direction of complacency and taking it all for granted… As long as the conscience of the born-again are housed in human flesh and bone, they are prone to the sleep of death and need continual rescuing.”
Saint Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus reminds us that the life of a disciple includes contending with the mysterious tug of evil, which is simultaneously repellent and attractive. Just as Jesus was, we are tempted to temporarily shift our focus—perhaps, just for a moment—from God’s promises in order to attend to our own wants or needs or priorities. When this happens, we risk losing our awareness of God’s presence and action in our lives, choosing to focus instead on more tangible realities, like food, possessions, pleasure, comfort, and reputation.
|Christ in the Desert by Ivan Kramskoi|
In the end, however, after being tempted to be self-sufficient and to use his power for his own glory, Jesus did not turn away from God—the Father’s will remained the priority of his life. The Trappist writer, Michael Casey, has reflected, “We have been called to follow the one who was tempted in the desert, and we must expect that fidelity to our life of discipleship will involve us in substantial and sometimes earth-shuddering struggles.”
The Season of Lent reminds us that holiness is possible for us only when we enter into the struggle, understanding that whatever darkness we may encounter will not overtake us as long as we refuse to accept anything less than God’s love and mercy: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
In these Lenten Days—especially in this Year of Mercy—how have you made time to reflect upon and celebrate the gift of Mercy?
What do you do when you experience temptation? What resources does our faith tradition provide that could help you to persevere in the life of discipleship?
When have you judged others who struggle with temptation and sin? How can you extend God’s love and mercy to them? How might they be sign of mercy for you?
A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent +
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observance of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)
This post was originally written for Aleteia.org and posted on their website on February 13, 2016.