First Sunday of Lent
Temptations are a regular part of our lives. Five days a week, I used to go out in the morning and take an hour’s walk around the corner in Macquarie Fields when I was serving in that parish. Basically that was my exercise for the day. However, there were days when it was quite cool and I would love to snuggle up in my bed for another hour and miss my walk. Sometimes, I would look at the sky and when it was quite cloudy I would say to myself, “Will I go out? I think it’s going to rain”. However, knowing the weather here, the chance of rain is not really that high in the morning. And I had to get through this temptation every day.
I know that there are people out there who face various kinds of temptations every day. Some have to make decisions that are not serious like whether to eat in a Chinese or a Japanese restaurant. There are other decisions that are life changing, like whether to go out of the country to have better job opportunities for the family. There are others whose choices are either good or bad. Like a government official who needs to sign some paper work for businesses, would he or she accept a bribe or not?
This week’s gospel is a very short one. True to the style of St Mark, he portrays Jesus as a person who is always on the move and has to go about his ministry with urgency. That is why after the baptism of Jesus and the inauguration of his ministry by the “voice from heaven” which is understood as Jesus’ heavenly Father, the Spirit drove Jesus to the desert to be tempted by Satan. And that’s about it. Unlike in the other gospels, where Matthew and Luke have narrated in good detail about the three temptations of Jesus, even telling us of the conversations between Jesus and Satan. And I think that’s the style of Mark and the purpose of which is to tell us that Jesus underwent the temptations of Satan to prepare him for the important events that he’ll do in his life, his ministry and his passion, death and resurrection.
We usually have a negative connotation with regards to temptations. Most of us see this as a sin. However, the gospel for today tells us that it is not. Temptations are there to serve a greater purpose and that is to be able to choose God always. For Jesus, this was very important. He realised that in order save us human beings, he should be like one of us in every aspect of our lives. And being tempted is one aspect of our lives.
In the Our Father, we always pray “deliver us from evil”, in other translations, “lead us not into temptation”. Jesus made that prayer for us because he knew that some temptations could really be very difficult. And yet, Jesus, the Son of God himself got tempted by Satan not only three times but throughout his life and even at the very end. And these temptations made Jesus stronger and led him closer to his Father.
The same effect would also happen to us. The more temptations we overcome by choosing God, the stronger we get in making good choices and the closer we become to God.
The readings for the First Sunday of Lent always feature the temptations of Christ. And I believe that its purpose is to strengthen us as we start our Lenten journey. Hopefully, some of us have made some resolutions that we could achieve this Lent. And the temptations are always there to break these resolutions. The Catholic Church encourages us to abstain from meat for all the Fridays of Lent and even to fast on Good Friday, and the temptation to eat meat instead of fish is very real. If we have promised ourselves to join the Way of the Cross organised by many parishes every Friday, it is so easy to justify ourselves why we can’t make it. If we have promised ourselves to do some extra good deed this Lenten season, it is so easy to break that promise. A reminder for us that Jesus has overcome temptations from Satan himself would hopefully strengthen our resolve to do the same as we our Lenten journey.
As we start our Lenten journey, let us remind ourselves of what Jesus underwent in the desert. And Jesus’ example of choosing God always will help us overcome temptation and make this Lenten journey meaningful for all of us.