What Temptations Can Tell Us About Ourselves

by Catholic Bible Studies And Reflections

One of the best ways to enrich your faith is to pray with the gospel readings. A great way of doing this is using the “Lectio Divina”; this is a powerful method which we explain here.

We hope that it helps you in your personal prayer and that it serves as a resource that you can share with your apostolate.

Catholic Bible Study On The Gospel Of Luke 4: 1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

He didn’t know how the world is simplified for kings. To them, all men are subjects.– The Little Prince

At some point in your life you must decide what you want to be. It is life itself that will either accompany you or drag you before the truth of yourself. In general this happens in situations in which you only have yourself to count on, situations in which you experience your radical solitude, and when you find that your typical securities and points of reference are of no help. These are moments of disorientation, of bewilderment.

These forty days of Jesus in the desert are questioning: forty years was the time Israel travelled through the desert – forty, like a lifetime nearly complete. By the time you are forty you ought to have decided what you want to be in life.

This question is not far from the one Jesus confronts in the desert: forty days to decide what he wants to be, what kind of Messiah he will be. There were many different hopes placed on the figure of the Messiah and now Jesus is pushed, forced by the Spirit to decide for himself. In a certain sense, in the Gospel of Luke, the story of the temptations in the desert are like a keynote address at the beginning of his reign.

Deciding for oneself is always a battle, a battle in which we confront contrasting desires: our personal hopes often contrast with the expectations of those around us and certain illusions are often in conflict with what reality has to tell us.

As it so often happens in life, so too Jesus finds himself alone. He is in his own desert, without points of reference, abandoned and without securities. For Israel, the desert was a place of fear, a place where their very fears were transformed in serpents, a place of hunger and thirst, a place of idolatry. And yet the desert was also the place of intimate encounter with God, a place of relationship, the place of the Covenant and the Law. All of these things happen in the desert that is our life.

We often clothe the word temptation with vulgar connotations but a closer look reveals that temptations are simply the moments in life when we show who we truly are. This is also the meaning of the verb “to tempt,” peirazo in Greek used by Luke.

Just as with Adam at the beginning of Genesis, so with Jesus: the first temptation has to do with eating, a normal daily activity, almost trivial in its normalness. In fact, the temptation itself is no extraordinary event and relates to the very course of life. It is life itself that continually brings out what we really are, asking us to decide who we want to be.

Eating is a metaphor for our relationship with the world. When we eat, we introduce into our bodies a part of the world. To eat is to enter into a relationship with what that which is outside of us. This is why the way we eat speaks to the way we live with regard to the exterior world: some devour it thinking only in themselves, others nourish themselves from it reasonably, other reject it entirely! The way in which we decide to eat the world reveals something about who we are.

Refusing to turn the stones into bread and accepting the weight of his hungry, Jesus says something about who he is. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with it, rather it would have been reasonable after forty days of fasting, but Jesus refuses the logic privilege: his power is for serving, it is to be shared, it is not to serve himself.

The other two temptations also have to do with power. The third also makes reference to the logic of privilege, the pretext of provoking God, of testing him by exercising the power that comes to us from being his children. It is the same power that the child tries to hold over his parents through his own capricious desires. It is the privilege of those who behave in a childish way in their relationships, always trying to pressure others to get what they want like a form of blackmail.

But the key to understanding the danger of power is hidden by Luke in the central temptation: compromising with power, allying oneself with evil for the sake of good, accepting the logic of evil while telling oneself that it’s just a means to a good end. Jesus not only refuses privilege but also the logic of compromise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” How many times have we, even in the Church, forgotten this verse of Luke’s Gospel and prostrated ourselves before the powerful, thinking that it was the only way to be able to do good?!

Temptation follows us our entire lives and returns in the moment when we are weakest: that is the opportune moment, the passion and the cross. When we are suffering, that disquieting voice returns to our minds from our childhood: think only in yourself, think of yourself first!

That’s the way we’ve been educated. The world has brought us up to believe that the most important thing is to save oneself. This temptation returns to Jesus in his final moments of passion and cross in the form of temptations of self-sufficiency, of self-salvation: come down from the Cross if you are the Son of God, save yourself!

 And once again we show who we truly are every time we have had to choose between our egoism – our thirst for power, our rightful claims, even when they’re comprehensible – and a greater good.

Questions for Reflection

What form to the temptations in your life often take on?

– What is your relationship with privilege and power (or the desire for power)?

Featured image: Chris Ford @ Flickr

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