First Sunday in Lent (March 10, 2019)

Immediately after John baptized Jesus and the father called Jesus his “beloved son” and the Holy Spirit filled him with himself, Jesus was then “led by the spirit into the desert.” This was just before Jesus began his public ministry. These temptations probably represent temptations Jesus had throughout his whole life, but the Gospel writers telescoped them into a one-time event.

I have heard many homilies and read many commentaries about Jesus’ temptations. They do not contradict one another, but each writer seems to have a different emphasis about pride, selfishness, and the abuse of power. I thought that this year I would simply reflect on “temptation” in general.

Temptations are impulsive thoughts about strategies, ploys that I use that are counter-productive to becoming who god calls me to be. An impulsive thought that may move us doing something good, we call “inspiration.” An impulsive thought that may lead us to do something evil, we call “temptation.”

Personally, I suspended “the devil” notion years ago. I surely do need God, but I do not need to conjure up a character to account for my own inclinations to do my own will. I do not need a “devil” to blame for my selfishness. I am quite capable of coming up with less than virtuous ideas all by myself. I do not need a snake to blame - as we read in the genesis myth. I do not outright deny the existence, just the need in my life. You make your own decision.

Jesus always had his priorities straight and followed them. He did not sin, but he was human, so he had temptations as all humans have.

We humans do not always have our priorities straight. We sin in choosing not to follow the appropriate order of priorities to which Jesus calls us. At times, we put ourselves ahead of God or someone in need. We sin.

Today, we are looking at what inclines us to sin. A helpful way for me – and perhaps you – is to check first, our priorities and second, our temptations, our inclinations regarding those priorities, by looking at the people and things in our lives in the light of the time, talent and treasure we expend on those priorities.

Temptation wears a thousand masks. It never asks: would you like to do something evil. The serpent asked: “Would you like to be like God? Then eat.” Temptations “sound” good. Paul and John call impulsive thoughts “spirits”; the “spirits” should be discerned to determine whether they are or not God’s will. To discern them, we first need to recognize them. Our current state of mind is expressed in our priorities.

One way to recognize our priorities is to evaluate them according to the amount of time, talent, and treasure spent on each. Use your imaginations, your wits, as to how. You might want to score your priorities on a scale of one to “whatever” and then score the time, talent, and treasure expended on each. Such pencil and paper devices can be very revealing. It is a practice like this that I use during my annual retreat. I find that it helps me to concentrate and face the facts of what my priorities really are. It also helps to expose the inclinations, temptations that I experience in my day-to-day spiritual life.

Our inclination to possess things, our desire to control our lives can get out of hand and be hurtful to ourselves and others. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, Lent provides a protracted period of time to look thoughtfully at ourselves and see ourselves as we are and not as we would like to think we are.

Lent is the season for conversion of mind and heart. If we want to grow spiritually, to go through ongoing conversion, we need to know ourselves as we really are. An examen of first, our current priorities, and second, our impulsive thoughts makes for a productive start.