Matthew 4:1-11: First Sunday of Lent
A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, fasting and abstinence is observed among those who wish to enter into the spirit of the season. After the excesses of mardi gras or “fat Tuesday”, one is challenged with the thought of not eating or even just abstaining from the usual fare of meat. The struggle varies with different people. Some simply shrug, try to busy themselves, and not think about food. Others look at the clock slowly ticking the seconds and minutes away and look forward to Thursday breakfast. For others, finding a good reason to sacrifice their Wednesday meals is the way to go through the day and resist the temptation to break the fast or violate the abstinence. But many simply give in at the slightest pang of hunger and find some suitable excuse of making it up on Friday or with some good deed. We ask ourselves on greater matters of temptation, how do we overcome them? Behind our fortitude in the face of temptation, what is it that we stand for so that the temptation is worth fighting?
In the first reading, the snake manages to create a desire in the woman for the forbidden fruit. A false sense of assurance—“you certainly will not die,… you will be like gods”—is given. The idea that one becomes like “gods” is certainly appealing and irresistible. The woman succumbs to the temptation and the man follows her. In the narrative, both did not put up a fight or reason out with the serpent. They did not have any sense of loyalty to God who made them and provided them with the garden. They were simply carried away by the “idea” insinuated by the snake, “you will be like gods”. The idea of becoming equal to God was more important than having a relationship with God.
The Gospel highlights the firm rebuff that Jesus throws at each of the devil’s allurements. Each temptation suggests position, power, and prestige as overwhelming values that can be appropriated for oneself. The phrase, “if you are the son of God” surely appeals to a mundane logic where rank or authority is sought after and often used for personal gains. However, Jesus clearly has a different sense of what he prizes as important for himself: the Word of God and his unconditional reverence for God. Clearly, God is above everything for him. All else is relative to this one absolute so that his hunger or any human feeling for self-importance take a lesser grip on him. That this loyalty to God is Jesus’ absolute value is made evident in his unswerving repudiation of the devil’s enticing thoughts when with finality he says “Get away, Satan!” Is this not the same declaration he makes when he rejects Peter’s attempts at discouraging him from the taking the road to the Cross? There, too, he tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
C S Lewis characterizes those who give in to temptations rather easily as people who are quite unaware of their negative and damaging aspects. They become oblivious to the “badness” of their action. Struggling with the temptation makes one aware of its true nature and takes away the easy pleasure it often presents at the onset for the joys of the greater value one gains by rejecting it. Jesus shows us how to deal with our temptations and invites us to look beyond the immediate pleasures we may derive from giving in to them in exchange for the more lasting reward of being one with God at all times.