Sunday Reflection with Father Terry Tastard - 13 March 2011

Judean wilderness

Judean wilderness

We are not the innocent people that we would like to be.  Innocent in the sense, that is, of being pure in our intentions.  If we were always motivated by what is best and by what is good, then we could be said to be innocent.  But we are surrounded by a sea of temptations.  The temptation to take a bribe.  The temptation to falsify exam or test results.  The temptation to sneak a look at wrongful material on the internet.  The temptation to lie.  The temptation to disclaim our Christian heritage, to remove its inconvenience., or to promote ourselves in the eyes of other people whom we believe to despise religion.  Temptations are all around us.

In this sense each of us repeats the story we hear in Genesis today (2.7-9, 3.1-7).  There is a loss of innocence and when it comes, we are more afraid of the world than ever, because we realise that others are like ourselves.  A person with pure motives is hard to find.  We trust less readily, we suspect more quickly.  In this sense the human vulnerability to temptation has an impact way beyond each individual person.  It can unpick the ties that bind.  It is in this sense that I read what might first seem a baffling statement by Paul (Rom. 5.12-19) when he says that sin spread from the one to the many.  Imitation is one of the characteristics of human nature.  Parents know well how quickly children pick up their habits, good and bad alike.  And it’s not just children:  we know that students, or people at work, can easily give in to peer pressure.

When Jesus went into the wilderness (Matt. 4.1-11) he was exposed to temptation in its rawest form.  He is tempted not to suffer hunger and thirst, and thus to escape from his solidarity with all other men and women. As part of this he is tempted to what, quite frankly, we might call magic, or at least the manipulation of the natural order, so that he can be fed.  (We know that temptation well in our world today, as we survey how we wreck the environment.)  There is the temptation to showmanship, and with it a lack of respect for God.  There is the shudderingly awful temptation to worship evil.

He rejects and overcomes these temptations, so that he can continue in solidarity with us, all the way to the cross.  By resisting them he is able to inspire us who wrestle with temptation.  It is part of the long struggle against evil and its manifestation in human weakness.  The wilderness for the people of Judea and Galilee was not just a place where there was little human habitation and lots of heat and barren land.  It was where the civilized order stopped, and where it was believed that demonic powers were at work.  By going into the desert Jesus is going for more than a retreat.  He is strengthening himself for the conflict ahead, encountering evil and mastering it, so that he can free us in our turn from its grip.  

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His latest book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see:

Share this story