16 February 2016
Girl Scout Cookies and Temptation
First Sunday of Lent
We hear about Jesus’ temptations today in the Gospel. He wasn’t tempted so much by Girl Scout Cookies, but by the ancient sin whereby Satan tricked Adam and Eve: the sin of pride. Satan tempts Jesus to show His power by turning stone into bread; to receive power over all if Jesus would just worship Satan; to throw Himself off the parapet of the temple because God will not let His Son suffer. Pride is the sin where we put ourselves above God. That’s how Satan had corrupted Adam and Eve, and that’s how he planned on corrupting Jesus. Of course, we know that Jesus did not fall into those temptations. He rejects Satan and rejects putting God to the test.
When we sin, it often happens in one of two ways. Some sins we don’t even think about. We react without any reflection of what we’re doing. In one sense, these sins are most dangerous, because they are second nature. It might be taking God’s Name in vain after a frustrating experience, yelling at someone when we are mad at them, or gossiping about a person with whom we disagree or whom we dislike. In another sense, they are less dangerous, because we do not freely choose the action, but almost seem to go on instinct, even if the instinct has been created by us through habitual actions.
Other sins come through long thought. We are tempted, and we give in, either after a short or a long fight. These are the sins where an idea pops into our head to do something we know we shouldn’t: to watch a show or visit a site that we know we don’t need to and which could lead to further sin; to plot a way to get back at someone who has hurt us; to have just a small bite or just a sip of a food or a beverage that we know we shouldn’t. In and of itself, that thought, that temptation, is not a sin. But how often do we move from the thought to further action: going to the channel or the site; starting to think about what we would do to get back that that person; opening up the refrigerator or going to the bar. Once we start going down that path, giving in to the temptation, it is much harder to get out of it. The behavior, whatever it is, seems to take on a life of its own and grow, and we can end up feeling surrounded and smothered by that sin. Even if these sins are small, they can be very dangerous, because we are using the God-given gift of reason, a way that we are made in God’s image and likeness, to reject God.
So how do we avoid giving in to the temptations in our life, whatever they are? How do we say no to temptation and yes to God? The first key is to swat away and move on from the temptation when it first shows itself. Treat the temptation like you would a mosquito, and move on to something else. Otherwise the mind will easily go back to the temptation, and it will gain strength.
The second key is tied to our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. It may have seemed simply like a nice story that the Israelites were told to recall, but at the heart of the passage today is remembering who we are and what God has done for us. When we recall that we are children of God, redeemed by the Blood of Christ, we receive strength to fight the temptations that come our way. Satan tries to have us forget who we are so that we need to rely on him to give us meaning. In moments of temptation, we should recall that we are sons and daughters of God, and that God found us so important to Him that He would send His Son, Jesus, to die for us so that we didn’t have to fall into temptation and sin. When our self-worth is based in God, we are less likely to turn to lesser goods to make ourselves feel better. In the Gospel, Jesus knew who He was, and didn’t need to demonstrate that to Satan to prove it. That helped Him to resist Satan’s temptations.
The third key is also from the Gospel: turn to the Word of God. When Satan tempts Jesus, Jesus quotes Scripture. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the Word of God is living and effective. It helps sort through the lies that Satan, the father of lies, wants us to buy. If we have regular contact with the Word of God, it doesn’t mean that the temptations will stop, but we will know how to fight them, because we are familiar with the message of love and truth that God gave us through His Word.
All of us have been, are, and will be tempted. It is a part of our human condition after the Fall. But, after Jesus redeemed us by dying on the cross, we also have the strength to reject temptation and sin, and say yes to God. When we are tempted, in whatever way we are, may we remember that we are children of God whose worth is based in God, and turn to the Word of God to follow Jesus’ example of saying no to Satan and yes to God.