What Really Matters in Life?
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread." He said in reply, "It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone." Jesus answered him, "Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me." At this, Jesus said to him, "Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve." Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
What do you see when you look at the world? The problems seem to be too many to count. News is a factory of anxiety and worry. How will we respond?
As Christians, we are in a time of testing. And what comes after the test? The result. Once we get our test results, we have to re-assess the situation and see how to go forward. The same thing happened to our First Parents in the Garden and Eve and to Jesus in today’s Gospel, although they responded very differently.
“Reflecting on the temptations to which Jesus was subjected in the wilderness invites each one of us to answer a fundamental question: What really counts in my life?” (Pope Benedict XVI, 13 February 2013)
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were blessed. They had been made the masters of creation. It was a wonderful experience. They were living literally in Paradise. But God did not want to have them love him because they had no other choice. This is the meaning of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. They had to be able to choose God of their own accord, not because there were no other options.
For Jesus, he had come into a world already enslaved by sin. But he was pure, innocent, like no one else. Before beginning his public ministry culminating in his suffering and death, he had to show that he would respond to the test. Jesus was led into the desert to be “tempted.” The word in Greek is peirazo, the noun form peirasmos. The word can mean to “scrutinize, test, endeavor, entice, or put to proof.”
In the text from Genesis, the word “temptation” does not appear. There, the serpent merely speaks to Eve. It is a challenge, however, since he challenges the image that she has of God. If he is a loving Father, why does he make this prohibition? It is something that many of us may struggle with as well.
We all have tests and temptations in our own lives. Sometimes, we can despise the test, the temptation, thinking that it makes things unfair. But really, it is the way that we can show our love to God. When we are being tested, suffering from the peirasmos, we can see where our hearts truly lie. We get to scrutinize ourselves and see if we are living for the Lord or for ourselves and the world.
Every temptation is an opportunity for us to recognize who the Father is in our life. It can help us understand that the limits he places on us for our own good, and not some crazy test that is meant to trip us up.
What is the result of the test? Jesus passes with flying colors, as we might expect. Our first parents failed miserably. How are we doing? Do we see the temptations and trials of life as opportunities to prove our freedom and love of God? Or, do we get caught up in our own self-love and crawl back up into our shells, blaming others for our mistakes?
Lent is an opportunity to purify ourselves of our disordered desires and passions. We all have toxic habits, things we do on a regular basis that hurt ourselves or those around us. May our fasting this Lent be an opportunity to root out these basic faults. They do us so much damage.
How to Go Forward
We get to look at ourselves during Lent. Every Lent is an opportunity for conversion. The word “conversion” is metanoia in Greek. It refers to a change of mind, a change of mentality. We all need to change our mentality. Rather than being self-seeking and selfish, we need to learn to serve God in those around us. This is the path to interior freedom and to joy and peace.
This week, each night before bed, take some time to examine your own tests and peirasmoi from during the day. Are you getting caught up in these temptations, or are you experiencing a true conversion – a metanoia – a change of heart and mind? This daily examen can do so much to change the way you live out your faith and the way you live your Lent.
Our recent experience of the passing of Bishop David O’Connell presses the question of “What really counts in life?” on the heart of each one of us. He did many things: serving immigrants, making peace between warring gangs, reaching out to prisoners, pastoring priests, and so much more. But at the end of the day, we are impressed by who he was, a man of God who loved God and his people more than anything in this world. He was a man whose spiritual conversion never ended. What really counts in life? Take a look at Bishop David’s life, and then at your own.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.
Pope Benedict XVI. (2013). General Audience 13 February 2013