Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard - 21 February 2010

In the gospel today (Luke 4.1-13) Jesus confronts temptation.  One comment theme running through these temptations is that they are short cuts. 

First Jesus is tempted to use divine power to feed himself rather than go hungry.  But he is here among us as one of us.  If he does this, he will not experience hunger, which is the suffering of untold millions of people every day.  The same thought will come later when he is betrayed and arrested:  should he call legions of angels to his aid (Matt. 26.53)?  But to do this would mean avoiding the cross, and avoiding any share in the pain and humiliation undergone by so many people in the world. 

Second, he is tempted to the glory and prestige of earthly kingdoms.  The price is to collude with evil.  Perhaps this is a temptation to riches and power, pure and simple.  But I see something else here.  It is the thought of all the good that could be done, if only you give in to the demands being made on you.  Imagine, if you will, a priest with a desperately poor parish in the United States.  The Mob are very powerful in his area.  Without asking for it, he is offered a substantial sum of money to use for whatever purposes he wanted:  to restore the church, to feed the hungry, to run an after-school club to keep the kids off the streets ... we  hope that he refuses the offer, even although it is said to have no strings attached. 

Third, there is the temptation to impress and awe onlookers through a dramatic display.  No need to walk the hot and dusty lanes of Galilee, teaching and preaching.  No need to be exhausted by people bringing the physically and mentally ill for healing.  No need to deal with Herod’s spies or debate with the sharp-tongued lawyers.  But Jesus rejects this invitation to a dramatic manifestation of his power.  God does not overpower us, that is why he comes to us in Christ.  God invites, God challenges, but he gives us freedom to choose. Moreover, the greatness of God is not to be turned into some kind of performance to awe and entertain an audience.  Demands for proof from God often would reduce God to something like that.
All of us know these temptations in some way or another.  Often, the worst temptations are dressed up in the form of good.  It often takes the form of saying, ‘The end justifies the means.’  There is a wonderful temptation scene in the film Jesus of Montreal.  The Christ-like figure is talking to a lawyer in a high tower overlooking the city.  The lawyer says, if you stick with me, all these people will be at your feet.  He also points out that celebrity status can be used for good:  charities are always looking for a spokesperson. 

In the story of the temptations, Jesus is aware of his gifts, his power.  But he knows that only through his relationship with God the Father can these gifts be used well and used wisely.  Like the rest of us, the Son of God has to persevere, has to search, has to see himself as part of humanity, has to struggle at times.

Temptation suggests attractive short cuts.  But there are no short cuts if we are to love God and neighbour. 

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His new book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, from religious booksellers and from the publisher.
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