July 1, 2022
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Following His Example

Following His Example

I love homemade apple pie, especially when the apples inside of it are all cooked up real soft, like in chunky applesauce.  That, by far, is my most favorite food on earth.  If you put a dinner plate in front of me and next to that a big slice of homemade apple pie, I would be very tempted to forget the dinner and eat the pie instead.

In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (Lk 4:1-13) we read about Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert.

Those two examples, my being tempted by a particular food and Jesus being tempted by the devil, make it clear that the word “temptation” may have more than one meaning or interpretation.  So what exactly do we mean by the word “temptation”?

I looked it up.  And in doing so, I found a variety of definitions.

One source said, the word temptation is used to describe the state of being attracted or enticed to something, and this attraction may have nothing to do with moral, ethical, or ideological values.  For example, one may say that a piece of food looks tempting, but submitting to that temptation would not necessarily result in any negative consequences.

Another source said that the word temptation describes the desire to perform an action that one may enjoy immediately or in the short term but will probably regret it later for various reasons that could be either legal, social, psychological or philosophical in nature.

And another source said that temptation is the inclination to sin.

But in order for us to properly understand the lesson that today’s Gospel has for you and I, we need to get a solid grasp on how to interpret that word “temptation”, because in the Lord’s Prayer we even say, “Lead us not into temptation”.  And if temptation is referring to the inclination to sin, then that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer would imply that we are asking that the Lord not tempt us to sin; and that makes no sense.  Scripture even tells us that, “No one who is tempted is free to say, “I am being tempted by God”.  Surely God, who is beyond the grasp of evil, tempts no one.” (James 1:13)

So we need to understand, because, obviously, not all forms of temptation are the same.  For example, being tempted to rob a bank would be a bad thing.  Being tempted to do a charitable act would be a good thing.  And being tempted to eat a slice of apple pie would be neither good nor bad.  But whether the particular temptation is either good, bad or indifferent, all forms of temptation have one thing in common.  They are all referring to something that I want.  I am the one who wants to rob that bank.  I am the one who wants to do that charitable act.  And that slice of apple pie is mine.  It has my name all over it.

If you look at the word “temptation” that way, it would be safe to say that, in reality, there is only one temptation; and that would be the temptation to seek what I want rather than surrendering to what God wants for me.

But we have to be careful when we make simple summary statements like that, because they can be easily misunderstood.  For example, is it wrong to want to do something good?  Or is it wrong to want something as innocent as a piece of apple pie?  Of course not!  But is it wrong to be so centered on seeking the satisfaction of my own desires as to ignore the will of God in my life?  Yes, I think it is.

I have spent my entire adult life working as a machine designer.  So I will use the example of a circle to help explain my point.  Imagine drawing a circle with a compass.  Now imagine that this circle representing our individual lives.  Every circle has a center, so put yourself in the center of that circle.  If we feel that this example accurately describes our own individual life then, in this example, I become the center of my world.  Everything else in life is relegated to some other part of my private circle.  But the Scriptures make it clear that life can be what God intended it to be if, and only if, we allow God to be the focal and center point of our lives.  Everything in our life is intended to revolve around God.  It is in honoring His will, and not my own selfish, self centered desires, that will bring us peace, joy and contentment.

With that ideal firmly in mind, we can more fully understand the concept of sin.  I read an article recently that summarized this very well.  It said that, “Sin is when we allow anything other than God, anything, to occupy the center of our personal worlds, even if this “something” is basically good.” (Gold Label Publications)

We tend to want to be in control.  It is part of our human nature.  I have always felt that this tendency of ours to want to be in control is how Original Sin manifests itself in our lives.  In our mind we are screaming, “This is my life.  Don’t tell me what to do.  I control my own destiny.”  Remember, in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he said, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods –“. (Exodus 3:5)

Instead of trying to play god and being the center of my own personal world, we need to let God be God and trust Him.  Our lives should be centered around Him and His will for us in life.

And as to that line in the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”, I refer to Pope Benedict.  He said that when we pray that line in our prayer, “We are asking God, our Father, not to leave us alone and in the power of temptation.  We ask the Holy Spirit to help us know how to discern, on the one hand, between a trial that makes us grow in goodness and a temptation that leads to sin and death and, on the other hand, between being tempted and consenting to temptation.  This petition unites us to Jesus who overcame temptation by His prayer.  It requests the grace of vigilance and of final perseverance.” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

The Greek word, peirasmos, which is used in that line from the Lord’s Prayer, is traditionally translated as “temptation”.  But those who are experts in the translation of ancient Greek  say that this word has little or nothing to do with temptation in terms of moral, ethical or spiritual overtones, but rather it simply means “being put to test”, as in a test of character.  They say that “being put to the test” simply refers to a situation in which a person is challenged to keep the name of God honored. (Wikipedia)

Our God came to earth and became one of us, to share in our humanity.  In the Gospel, Jesus is tempted to turn the stone into bread, to be more than human, to exercise His divine power to satisfy His human hunger.  He was tempted with all the power and glory that this world has to offer.  And He was tempted to take that theatrical leap, to display His divine power to satisfy His human ego.  But He chose instead to honor us by sharing in our human weaknesses, to share in our limitations and our trials.  He chose to face those trials, relying on nothing more than the same resources that we have; self discipline and confidence in the loving care and protection of His Heavenly Father.  May we all learn to follow the example set before us by our Lord and Savior and live our lives with that same confidence and discipline.

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Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

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