It is Not Whether We Will Face Temptation, But How

Each of the three synoptic Gospels record that at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus was tempted by Satan. Mark’s account is the shortest; he merely tells us that “[t]he Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Both Matthew (whose account we hear in today’s Gospel reading) and Luke give us a more extensive version, each detailing the three temptations put to Jesus by Satan.

So even before the start of his public ministry, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that “The powers of evil, of falling away from God, approach [Jesus] and try to bring him down at the very moment that he is assuming his role as Messiah.”

That tells us something about why temptation is an important subject for us to reflect on: if we take our discipleship seriously, it is not a question of whether we will face temptation, but how. If we model our lives on Christ, we will be tempted.

And note that Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Bonhoeffer notes that “the temptation does not begin with the Father arming the Son with all powers and weapons, so that he can win the battle. No the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, into solitude, into forsakenness.”

It is when we make a conscious and an intentional decision to follow Christ that we are a threat to what St. Ignatius calls the evil spirit – and that spirit (whatever name we give him) will try to tempt us as he tempted Jesus. This is one of the areas where I think Ignatius’ battle imagery is very helpful – the evil spirit is like the enemy “casing the joint” so to speak, looking to see where the weak spot is – where we are most vulnerable – so that it can attack at the place most likely to succeed.

The things that tempt us vary. So we each need to know what our weak points so that we can be on guard. We can’t shore up our weak points unless we can identify them.