This week is the beginning of Lent. On Sunday at Mass we will hear the gospel reading about Jesus’ ordeal in the desert where the devil came and tempted Him. Many people wonder why Jesus bothered to put Himself in this painful situation. After all, He is God; He knows everything. He didn’t need first-hand experience about human temptation to understand what it’s like.
The epistle to the Hebrews gives us a clue. It explains, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses...[He] was tempted in every way that we are.”
This week’s reading also gives us the key for successfully resisting temptation. In the very first sentence we read that Jesus was “Filled with the Holy Spirit.” If we don’t have the Holy Spirit alive and active inside of us, we’re sunk.
We all face temptations every day. If we are controlled by our physical nature rather than our spiritual nature, we’re destined for big trouble. The Holy Spirit, working through our conscience, is the only moral compass which will always point us in the right direction.
However, we need to make sure that we listen to His voice. It’s very easy to block out the Spirit’s messages and delude ourselves into thinking that we, and we alone, can make the right decisions. Human history is teeming with tragic examples of people who thought they could make all the right choices without the help of God’s Spirit.
Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered Him all the power and glory of those kingdoms if only Jesus would bow down to him. Satan claimed that he could make such an offer because all the power of the world’s kingdoms “has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.”
If we observe the various people and institutions that wield the most power in the world today, it’s easy to make the case that, for once, Satan was telling the truth. His evil influence can be plainly seen, as that famous theologian Mick Jagger chronicled in the song “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Another thing we can learn about Satan this week is that he is well-versed in Scripture. As he debated with Jesus and tried to get Him to take the bait, Satan quoted the Bible. Those of us who often quote Scripture to bolster our point of view should keep this in mind. Citing chapter and verse does not automatically make an argument true.
This is along the same lines as James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that.” Believing that God exists is certainly better than believing that He is just a figment of mankind’s imagination. But unless we worship Him as God and submit to His will for our lives, we’re little better than the demons.
Unless we make God Number One in our lives — unless we put our faith and trust in Him — we’re committing the same sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven in the first place: worshipping ourselves rather than the awesome One who created us. Don’t be tempted to do something as foolish as that.