The Heart of All Temptation: Pushing God Aside

As it has done in the past, the University of St. Thomas Office for Spirituality is sponsoring Seasonal reflections during Lent.  I wrote the reflection for this today, the First Sunday in Advent, for which the Gospel reading was the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  Here is the text of my reflection:

Today’s Gospel is St. Matthew’s account of the Jesus’ temptation in the desert, an event that occurs at the very beginning of his public ministry, just after he is baptized by John.

Matthew lists three specific temptations that are really three categories of temptations that we all face:

First, turn stones into bread: representing temptations of the physical realm. Excessive drinking, laziness and uncooperativeness, temptation to physically and sexually abusive behavior, gambling and so forth.

Second, jump from the pinnacle of the temple: representing temptations of the psychological realm. Greed, envy, power, jealousy and entitlement.

Third, bow down before me: representing temptations in the spiritual realm. Presumption, hopelessness, despair, loss of faith.

But while they represent different categories, thee temptations share a common root. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict has a powerful chapter discussing this Gospel episode.  In it, he suggests that while the temptations are a core part of Jesus’ messianic mission, they are also about more than his particular mission. Rather, they “address the question as to what truly matters in human life.” Benedict helpfully and simply encapsulates what all temptation boils down to.

At the heart of all temptations, as we see here, is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives. Constructing a world by our own lights, without reference to God, building on our own foundation; refusing to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion – that is the temptation that threatens us in many forms.

We need to be mindful that we are all subject to temptation. Pope Francis once observed that anyone who says he has not been tempted is either an angel in disguise or a “little bit of an idiot.” We will be tempted. The question is: Will we give into that temptation, or, like Jesus, will we not let anything separate us form God’s desire for us, from the centrality of God in our lives?

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