Luke 4:1-13, First Sunday of Lent
In the past couple of months on different occasions, three friends of mine told me that they finally deactivated their Facebook accounts. The latest one was a priest-friend, a very eloquent and dynamic professor of theology at their seminary in the province. “I’ve finally taken myself out of Facebook,” he said. “When it’s the online bickering for and against Duterte that greets me first thing in the morning,” he said, “I didn’t notice that I got affected by the foulness of it all and I carried the mood with me all day long.” My other two friends had said the same thing. They finally realized that their negative experience online would leak out and blight their reactions offline, even to people who happened to have absolutely nothing to do with their morning Facebook ritual. In the US, there’s growing Facebook fallout because users wish to protect their privacy. My friends fell out for the same reason, privacy—but of a slightly different, if much deeper, kind: protecting that room in their hearts where they want peace and only peace.
In this case, at least to my three friends, Facebook has turned into a trigger. It triggers their anger, which triggers joining the bickering, which triggers them to show the opponents how stupid they are, and throw the better punch, and have the last word. Unfortunately, the last word isn’t the last thing to happen. Because whether my friends actually wrote anything or simply read the posts, Facebook slowly and quietly poisoned their sentiments and their outlook the rest of the day, but did so unnoticed. Kind of like how the devil is known to work, isn’t it?
In today’s Gospel, the devil was trying to trigger Jesus intosatisfying three of the most basic needs of all human persons: food or material comfort (“Turn these stones into bread”), self-esteem or self-worth (“I shall give you all this power and glory”), and faith or personal principles (“If you’re the Son of God, throw yourself down from here”). It wasn’t sin to satisfy these needs. Like all of us today, Jesus was a fully human person. He needednourishment. He profited from a healthy sense of self. And his life gained its deepest significance when he lived for someone greater than himself. But trust the devil to turn a good thing into poison. The devil was triggering Jesus so he would do it all now, have it all now, and become it all now, no matter what it took, even if it took surrender to the dark side of the force. As it once in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be—triggers trigger us to do it and have it and become it all now; all of it, mind you, not just some of it, no. All of it. And now. We want pleasure now. We want gratification now. We want to hit back now and want to have the last word now. And not just some of it, no, all of it—now.
How might we manage our triggers? Well, since the temptation of Christ happened in the desert, maybe “desert” could be a nice password when we’re being triggered. Our Lord’s desert retreat was marked by space and distance from the crowd. So, maybe, when something triggers us to regress into a bad, old version of ourselves—like our lustful selves or our gossipy selves, like our gluttonous selves or our arrogant selves, like our passive aggressive selves, or our foul-mouthed, ranting, vengeful selves? It might be good to think “desert,” i.e., to create a wider space between trigger & reaction; “desert,” to walk the painstaking distance away from the noisy crowd in our heads that shout, “Pull that trigger! Pull that trigger!” For that space and distance to widen between trigger and reaction, we need God’s grace of time. In many cases, a trigger actually fizzles out, is deactivated, when we wait; pretty much like a tantrum subsides when the brat notices that no one’s paying any attention. “But how long must I wait?” our trigger, our inner brat might ask. “40 days and 40 nights,” we could answer. As long as it takes for us to do the right thing, not the wrong; to respond rather than to react; to be responsible, not retaliatory.
“Fr. Arnel, if Jesus never sinned in his entire life, don’t you think he had it easier?” Been asked that a few times in the classroom. I also thought the same way when I was younger, that Jesus must have had it so much easier in life because he never sinned. But now and more than ever, I realized, oh, God, no. Jesus had it much harder. Imagine: to be human, and be triggered for 33 years of his life on earth—and I bet the devil didn’t have a day off from tempting a good man like Jesus who still decided each time and at every moment, to not pull the trigger. That’s certainly not having it much easier, isn’t it? That must have exhausted him at the end of each day! No wonder our Lord often had to deactivate too, whereupon he made his way out to the wilderness, where he could be with alone with his Father with whom he could scream and shake his fist at heaven and kick sand and hurl stones and rant and rave and fall on his knees and cry in big, heaving sobs…but always with the Father. In a word: prayer. And after that space and distance and time, when the whole desert cooled, darkened, and quieted into evening, the vulnerable Jesus pulled himself together and walked slowly back to where the people needed him to be.
Lent is upon us, dear sisters and brothers; a good time to pay attention to what triggers us, and how, and if you wish, even why. It is a good time to learn how to create a space and distance between the time we’re triggered and the time we respond. We cannot do it on our own. We need to ask for this as grace from God. And we need practice…say, for 40 days and 40 nights?
*image from the Internet