1ST SUNDAY LENT – TEMPTATION February 17, 2013 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
1ST SUNDAY LENT – TEMPTATION
February 17, 2013
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan [River] 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.”
Among the more famous dramatizations of human temptation, we read in Nathaniel Hawthorne the short story of “Young Goodman Brown.” This fiction occurs in the early nineteenth century near Boston, in a village that approximates the lineaments of Concord. The central character, young Goodman Brown, suggests a person like Everyman, differing from you and me principally in time period, but like us in other regards. This will be, he resolves to himself, the only step away from his moral path—just this one night, just once on this evil purpose.
“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said the man attired in a prosperous suit and seated at the foot of an old tree; now he walks alongside of the youth. “Faith kept me back awhile,” replied the young man with a tremor in his voice. This older man had an indescribable air of one who knew the world. His staff bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself, like a living serpent. Although Brown determines to go back to his village, his companion merely wants to reason, and suggests that they discuss as they walk along. So polite and reasonable is this tempter.
This adult hardly seems devilish, so young Brown strolls deeper into the forest. In the end, he is surrounded by fiend-worshippers. Like them, Brown will be sympathetic to sin, and he will exalt in beholding the whole earth one stain of guilt. Yet at the ultimate moment, Brown looks to heaven and revives his Faith, and the whole scene on the instant dissolves. Still, the event changes Brown, and even until his death years later, “his dying hour is gloom.”
Perhaps Hawthorne took his story line from today’s gospel. Christ is led into the desert where he will suffer three temptations. Because Christ has not eaten for forty days, he is physically weak and thus liable to the approach of Satan.
“If you are the Son of God,” says the devil, “command this stone to become bread.” In the first temptation, the devil entices this lonely and hungry human to apply his divine power so that He might satisfy his gnawing stomach. Christ, of course, will soon in His public life, multiply bread and fish to feed five thousand people. He will soon change water into wine, six large stone jars of it. Christ can cure blindness and paralysis and leprosy, and even death. Although the Son of God will soon work such wonders, He will do so, not to satisfy Himself, and not at the behest of the devil. So Christ vanquishes Satan, and warns the Evil Spirit that we live by God’s grace, for one does not live on bread alone.
Then in the second temptation, Satan “showed Jesus 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.’” Like the devilish figure in Hawthorne’s story, this allure suggests a strong attraction, like a mighty magnet pulling the affection. In Christ, “we have a high priest who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
That temptation appears in stories that suggest an attraction sweeter than honey. Dr. Faustus felt such an allure; Mephistopheles would be a faithful servant with all his wondrous abilities. At the final hour, of course, Faustus would have to surrender his soul to hell, eternally. Such a story took immediacy when, after World War II, people accused Rudolph Eichmann of just such a deal. The charge inflamed public opinion.
Perhaps having political and military rule over nations charges neither you nor me; we nonetheless hanker after doing what we want, choosing our own gods, disregarding the Lord’s commandments. Abortion remains a crimson crime, but, daily, people want to rid themselves of that tiny fetus who would ruin my attractiveness and make me socially awkward. The commandments crimp my style; were the nations mine, were my circle of friends subject to my desirous thinking, I could live as I choose and not be checked by the living God’s Decalogue.
Another temptation challenges God’s promise to preserve His holy one from harm. “If you are the Son of God,” smiles Satan, “throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you…. With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone….And Jesus replies, Scripture also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
We humans hanker after a compelling proof of God’s existence and of His power. If God is all powerful, why does God allow for an innocent child to suffer and to die? Why does God allow for a holocaust of suffering Jews at Auschwitz? Why does God not simply step in and show Himself and make visible His reality and His authority? Don’t we all long to see the face of God in this life and so to end any doubts of the Lord’s presence as creator of this tree and this leaf? Such desires are akin to Satan’s testing God.
In praying the “Our Father,” we petition God to save us from failing a test of faithfulness. Lord, save me from my weakness. Amen.