Church

The Mysterious Tug of Evil: Reflecting on the Sunday Gospel

The temptation to choose our own way and will over God’s is never far away

The First Sunday of Lent (Year C)

February 14, 2016

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread …”

When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

—Luke 4:1-4, 13

To read this Sunday’s Mass readings, click here.

 

In his novel Brighton Rock, Graham Greene wrote, “You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” Lent is the time when the Church pauses to reflect on the reality of that mercy. And when weighed against human standards, God’s mercy is appallingly strange because it costs us so little: God asks only that we surrender to his love and mercy.

For most of us, this process of surrender is one that unfolds gradually over the course of a life of prayer, service, struggle and even setbacks. However, the temptation to choose our own way and will over God’s is never far away.

That call to surrender to God’s mercy is at the core of the Christian life. And yet at the same time, there is a struggle that takes place in every human heart: “Lent would indeed be a futile liturgical farce,” writes Edna Hong, “if the redeemed were henceforth sinless and if the tides of human nature were not always moving even the twice-born [the baptized], who have not shed their human nature, in the direction of complacency and taking it all for granted. … As long as the conscience of the born again are housed in human flesh and bone, they are prone to the sleep of death and need continual rescuing.”

St. Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus reminds us that the life of a disciple includes contending with the mysterious tug of evil, which is simultaneously repellent and attractive. Just as Jesus was, we are tempted to temporarily shift our focus — perhaps just for a moment — from God’s promises in order to attend to our own wants or needs or priorities. When this happens, we risk losing our awareness of God’s presence and action in our lives, choosing to focus instead on more tangible realities, like food, possessions, pleasure, comfort and reputation.

In the end, however, after being tempted to be self-sufficient and to use his power for his own glory, Jesus did not turn away from God — the Father’s will remained the priority of his life. The Trappist writer Michael Casey has reflected, “We have been called to follow the one who was tempted in the desert, and we must expect that fidelity to our life of discipleship will involve us in substantial and sometimes earth-shuddering struggles.”

The season of Lent reminds us that holiness is possible for us only when we enter into the struggle, understanding that whatever darkness we may encounter will not overtake us as long as we refuse to accept anything less than God’s love and mercy: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

In these Lenten Days—especially in this Year of Mercy—how have you made time to reflect upon and celebrate the gift of Mercy?

What do you do when you experience temptation? What resources does our faith tradition provide that could help you to persevere in the life of discipleship?

 When have you judged others who struggle with temptation and sin? How can you extend God’s love and mercy to them? How might they be sign of mercy for you?  

Words of Wisdom: “The free gifts he asks of us are self-denial, obedience and love. The rest is his business. It does not matter whether the soul is carefully fulfilling the duties of one’s state of life, or quietly following the leadings it is given, or submitting peacefully to the dealings of grace.”—Jean-Pierre de Caussade

 

Silas S. Henderson is in formation with the Society of the Divine Savior (the Salvatorians) and currently serves as the managing editor of Abbey Press Publications and Deacon Digest magazine. He is the author of numerous reflections and books. He can be found at www.fromseason2season.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/SilasSHenderson.