What do you think of when you hear the word “temptation”? Guilt, worldly pleasures, sin, something delicious but bad for your health and waistline?
Temptation is often associated with doing something wrong, rather than something good. Growing up Catholic, I regarded temptation as an invitation to sin, and certainly something to be avoided.
Temptation is a persistent theme throughout the Bible. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we hear the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve. Having been told by God not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – there was actually no mention of apples – Adam and Eve exercised their free will and fell into temptation by accepting the offer made by the devil (Genesis 3:1-24). Many other biblical characters fell into temptation, being lured by lust, power and greed.
Even Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11). However, Jesus chose to respond to temptation in a way we could all do well to imitate. Jesus’ temptation by the devil came at a time when Jesus was at his weakest. He had gone into the wilderness to fast, pray and to prepare himself for the difficult times ahead. The devil offered Jesus three tempting ways to alleviate his suffering, but Jesus resisted – not by arguing with the devil, but by using the powerful words of sacred Scripture to combat the devil’s temptations.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis offered some insights into this story of Jesus’ temptation. He noted that we can all be attracted to the same things the devil tried to tempt Jesus with. First is an attachment to things, be that food, alcohol, shopping, social media etc. Second is mistrust. We are tempted to not trust that God will provide for all our needs; we are tempted to go it alone. And third is the temptation of power – the invitation to believe that power is to be found in the ways of the world, rather than in the ways of God.
Like Jesus, we are often most vulnerable to temptation when we are at our weakest – when we are tired, hungry, lonely, anxious or feeling powerless. Repeatedly falling into temptation can be a difficult habit to break because it can be easier to do things that give us momentary pleasure or distract us from the difficult things happening in our lives.
Some people suggest Christians have a heightened sense towards the “evils” of temptation. Certainly, Christians who regularly choose to examine their conscience will give thought to the times when they have taken the easy path and given into temptation. Yet, there may also have been times when they have drawn strength from their trust in God and resisted temptation. By doing this, especially in public situations, they are often a quiet witness to what it is to live according to the values of their faith.
We invite you to take some time to reflect on what temptation looks like for you. You could start with this simple question: Where have I fallen into temptation by doing something that does not reflect love for God and neighbour?
Pope Francis, Angelus Address, Jesus’ temptation by the devil, Vatican: 26 February 2023.
Words: Sharon Brewer