Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

Insects and flies are lured by the scent of the sweet. Many times they discover that following a sweet scent can lead to a life of imprisonment or worse. Unable to resist the lure of the scent, they crawl far into a flower only to get so steeped in pollen that they can’t get out.

You might think this could never happen with us humans. We are too smart to fall for that. The sad fact is that we do allow it to happen. Like the bees we are lured by the scent of the sweet.

The popular meaning of temptation is enticing a person to do wrong. When we think of temptations, we immediately think of bad things. However, it is not only evil which can lead us astray. Good can do so just as effectively. In fact, all temptation comes under the guise of good. And the strength of a temptation is in proportion to the attractiveness of the goal.

It is not only when the path is hard and strewn with obstacles that we fail to reach the goal, but also when it is easy and littered with attractions. In the latter case we are tempted to dally along the way. We allow ourselves to get side-tracked, so that before we know it, we’ve forgotten our goal and wasted our strength. Earthly food dulls the appetite for heavenly food. There are no shortage of examples of this in the Gospels.

On one occasion Jesus invited a rich young man to become his disciple, but he refused. It wasn’t evil which caused him to refuse – he had done no evil. It was something which is good in itself – wealth.

When Jesus went to the house of Martha and Mary, Martha was too busy to listen to him. It wasn’t something bad which kept her from listening to him. It was something good, even praiseworthy – the details of hospitality.

Jesus told a story about guests who refused an invitation to a banquet. In refusing they were not acting from bad motives, but from perfectly good ones. One man wanted to inspect a piece of land he had bought. Another wanted to try out some oxen he had bought. And a third was newly married. However, though their reasons for staying away were perfectly good, the effect was the same as if they had been perfectly vile–they allowed the banquet to pass them by.

In his parable of the sower, Jesus said that some of the seed was choked by thorns. What did these ‘thorns’ consist of? ‘The worries and cares of this world and the lure of riches.’ Again, things not evil in themselves. What are we to deduce from all of this? That we may have as much to fear from the good as from the bad. After all, when we see something which is manifestly evil, we are more likely to be repelled than attracted by it. But when we see something which is manifestly good, we are likely to be attracted by it. Hence, it poses more danger. ‘Set a bird’s wings with gold and it will never fly.’ (Rabindranath Tagore).

The things that tempt us to abandon our goal are not always bad. More often than not they are good, and that is what makes it so hard to resist them. The most painful choices are often between the good and the best.

The devil doesn’t appear as a repulsive character. He appears as an attractive, ingratiating, charming character, even a friend. He appears to have your best interests at heart – as when he offered Jesus bread and all the kingdoms of the world. We need wisdom and strength to be able to resist temptations, especially those that come under the guise of good.

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