Years ago, there was a series of adverts for pastries and cakes whose slogan was "Fresh cream cakes, naughty but nice!" and the viewer would be presented with shot after shot of gorgeous delicacies -cream horns, Black Forest Gateaux, chocolate eclairs. These days, Dervla Kirwan seductively invites you into partaking of the yummy wares of Marks and Spencer and makes Advent as much a difficult time of dealing with temptation as Lent - if you regard Advent as a time of abstinence and fasting, that is!
Advertisements are, at their core, a form of temptation. They want to make you buy something, or buy into something. However, they can only really work effectively if you somehow buy into the premise that you need what they are selling.
Temptation is a very clever tool that the Devil uses because it plays upon our basic needs and wants. We're all tempted in different ways because we all have different desires and wants in our very being that need to be addressed and filled. Most of these needs are natural in origin and require a natural solution. We need to eat, therefore when we are hungry, food becomes tempting. We need to sleep, therefore when we are tired, the lure of a soft bed becomes too much to bear. We need to be loved, therefore the arms, body and warmth of our lover become more valuable than gold. All temptation plays upon our basic needs.
The trouble is that our needs become perverted. This is primarily how Original Sin manifests itself in our lives and within our society. Our weakness in balancing what we need with what we want is the cause of much iniquity in the world. The word "iniquity" carries the sense of not being equal, not being fair, not being honest, balanced or true. Our tendency to being self-serving is usually unconscious and unwitting, but nonetheless has deadly consequences.
It is worth looking at our temptations to see just what it is that we are being tempted to do and from what need this temptation springs. If we do so, we learn much about ourselves and about our relationship with God.
Let us then look at the Lord’s temptation in the fourth chapter of St Matthew’s gospel.
The Devil tempts the Lord into making bread out of stones. This plays upon the Lord’s physical hunger and the need to eat. In emptying Himself of His divinity, Jesus has made it possible for Himself to be hungry and frail and liable to die if the need for food is not met. If there is nothing to eat, then humans must accept that. For Jesus to turn stones to bread would be doing just the opposite of what His mission is.
In taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple, the Devil is playing on the human need for certainty and stability in a transient and fleeting life. How do we know there is a God? Can we trust Him? Can we draw up an experiment that will prove that God exists once and for all? In trying to get Jesus to doubt Himself and His Father, the Devil is hoping that he can provoke God into doing something rash and superficial, as well as undermining Jesus’ trust in God. In trying to break the bond between Father and Son, the Devil hopes for a victory against God.
The invitation for Jesus to bow to the Devil in exchange for the riches of the world is a temptation for Jesus to resume His rightful crown the easy way. Because Jesus is from the Father, He has a natural need and desire to return to the Father. He is aware of His Kingship and it is rightfully His. The Devil is offering Jesus a return to His rightful place but on the Devil’s terms. But Jesus has not come to exercise His rights but His love.
Each temptation of Christ is a temptation to reject what He has already accepted. In surrendering Himself to temptation, Jesus would be clinging to His Divinity and rejecting His humanity and this would be a clear betrayal of both God and Man. The Lord Jesus recognises the temptation for what it is and focusses His attention on the Divine Will, subordinating the Human Will to Providence.
We can look at our need for love and translate that into something more sensual and thus more sexual. Trying to fill the need with sex is such a sad way of living life, although it can produce wonderful sensations. Some try to fill the void with food and comfort eat themselves to death. Others will try to fill the void with religious practices and believe that they can earn God’s love or rather what they perceive of it.
Of course we all have basic needs, but we must seek them in the right place. God tells each one of us, “My grace is sufficient for thee”. We have to see in Him the fulfilment of our basic desires and needs. It will be because we look out at God for this filling the void that we will see others in need, and in need of the very things we have to offer. We look out from the introspection of our wanting, the hole in the soul as it were, into the light of Tabor, the Divine light, and we see the reason for that longing in Him. The more we can shed that light of Tabor from our living, the more will others’ find themselves touched and the less hold will the Devil’s temptations mean for us.
We pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” By this we pray, “be present with us, O Lord, in our very lives, that we may see our lives completed in Thee.”
How is that cream cake looking now?