At times, Jesus’ life can seem far removed from our own. Maybe most times. After all, none of us is the sinless Son of God, the Messiah or the Second Person of the Trinity. But Jesus is fully divine and fully human. And one of the most human things that happens to him is in today’s Gospel: he gets tempted.
Notice that each of these temptations involves something good. First, he’s temped with food. Next, he’s tempted to see if the Father would protect him physically. Finally, he’s tempted to have others worship him.
Now, each of those things is good: Jesus has to eat. It’s not so bad that he would be physically protected. And it makes sense that people would worship the Son of God.
That’s the real cleverness of Satan, or what spiritual writers call the “evil spirit,” the spirit that moves us away from God. It sounds counterintuitive, but we’re tempted most by things that seem good, but then lead us to something bad. I mean, few of us are tempted to go out and murder someone. It’s obviously bad, so it’s easy to identify and therefore easier to resist.
The most difficult temptations are those that seem good. In my own life, I’m often tempted by self-care that is masking some selfishness. “Oh,” I say, “I shouldn’t say yes to another talk or lecture or trip, because I’m tired and need to take care of myself.” That can end up leading to selfishness or self-centeredness. Again, it’s good to take care of yourself, but it shouldn’t dominate everything else. St. Ignatius of Loyola sometimes calls this the “angel of darkness” appearing as the “angel of light.”
In other words, be alert to the real temptations. Once you’ve identified them, you’re halfway there to resisting them.
- In your life, what moves you away from God—and away from the call to work for a more just world?
- How can you better identify the temptations that mask as things that are good? What space can you make in your life for discernment?
James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America, consultor to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication and author, most recently, of Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone.
James Martin, S.J., es un sacerdote jesuita, editor general de la revista “America”, consultor del Dicasterio para la Comunicación del Vaticano y su obra más reciente es: “Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone” (“Aprendiendo a Orar: una Guía para Todos”).