Jesus did not say, “Thou shalt not be troubled- thou shall not be tempted- thou shall not be distressed. But He said: Thou shalt not be overcome.”
Julian of Norwich
This Sunday’s Gospel explores Jesus’ three temptations, after his baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus’ temptations mirrors our own daily temptations and also identifies two of the greatest challenges we face in the spiritual life: our bodily challenges and the challenges presented by the world.
Jesus’ and our first temptation, almost always starts with struggles surrounding the body. This temptation, symbolized by turning stones to bread, reflects the challenges we face as natural beings having physical bodies with needs to eat, sleep, touch, love and be in relationship with others, etc. Common struggles rooted in our physical bodies include not only the physical challenge to work and acquire the necessary resources for basic living, but also the moral challenges regarding how we choose to address and fulfill these needs – doing so in morally acceptable ways or not.
This first “test” and “temptation” reflects the initial stage of our prayer lives, when the spiritual journey seems to be comprised primarily of fighting: fighting to eliminate our sinful habits, to accept ourselves as sinners needing God, to build various virtues and to construct a holy character, to be in God’s presence and to develop a prayer life, etc. In this stage of the journey, the spiritual struggle is often felt in one’s very body, as the person now seeks to fast and deny themselves from past illicit sensual pleasures, etc.
Jesus’ second test, where he is tempted to throw himself down from the top of the temple allowing his angels to save him, is a test of the world. This test reflects the second stage of the prayer life and spiritual journey. Whereas in the first stage of prayer, it seemed as if one was fighting with and in one’s body to break free of past worldly pleasures, practices and lifestyles that enslaved it, in the second stage one finds the fight has now shifted from within their body to against the world. Now, after experiencing a measure of success in disciplining one’s self for the spiritual life, Satan parades in front of the pilgrim all that he or she has apparently chosen to give up: power, money and wealth, notoriety, being celebrated, etc. In this test, the invitation is for the person to finally, by grace, to abandon all the various worldly rewards and to seek God alone as their sole prize.
As we enter into Lent this year, seek to better understand how the evil one plans on tempting and attacking you this Lent. By understanding the how and why of the evil one’s attacks, you can better prepare to persevere and ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent. Armed with better preparation and knowledge, our faith is strengthened and we can now stand on the hope that real changes are in store for us the Lent!!!
This Lent, be prepared for and expect the bodily suffering that accompanies the Lenten journey of fasting and prayer. This Lent, be prepared for and expect to be misunderstood and questioned by the world as you retreat from it to your inner garden to prayerfully be with God this Lent. Expect these crosses and more, as you follow Christ to Calvary this Lent. May God’s Holy Spirit lead and guide you through this Lenten Season!