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As I came back to the Church - and found myself re-aligning every aspect of my life under the light of faith - I became more and more aware of the need to identify temptations clearly. I was especially interested in recognizing better the ones that are not so obvious, the ones which involve a subtle choice, an interior disposition, a certain tendency to go this way or that way and I wondered how often the evil one was there leaning on me and breathing in my ear to make a poorer choice. My first reaction was actually to reject this idea because it was too scary! It would imply that the enemy was actively involved in my life on a daily basis, in an invisible and silent sort of way and, of course, I rejected this. There is a part of my brain that prefers to think that he is sitting in Congress whispering selfish laws to the Republican members or ineffective and useless regulations to the Democratic ones.

But something in my conscience kept nagging me to come back to this issue and look at it again, so slowly by slowly, I accepted the idea of scrutinizing my daily decisions, even the ones that seem trivial, and to see whether they were imbued (or not) with the two fundamental commandments: the love of God and the love of neighbor. As I said, this was not an overnight decision; it is something that became clearer to me as time went on. And that is where I think that a life of prayer and access to the sacraments are crucial. Because without them, I would have given up on this effort much earlier. The truth is that it is an effort; it requires consistency and courage in self-criticism and a great deal of discernment. And the bottom line is that I realized that I, more often than not, made choices based on my own tendencies toward selfishness and laziness. And when I looked back at the exact moment of choice, let's say between visiting a sick friend after work or going home and vegetating, I wondered whether my choice was influenced by the enemy dangling sublimal pictures of plush couches in front of my weary eyes just as I have sometimes sniffed the delicious aroma of a bakery on my way to church and found myself asking why am I going to Mass on my lunch break, wouldn't it make more sense to have a healthy lunch after the hectic morning I just had….

Ah! How delicate it is to navigate the dense and treacherous waters of temptations…

The First Temptation

So when I read chapter two of "Jesus of Nazareth", I found it fascinating (and edifying) to see how Pope Benedict XVI links the temptations to our own worldviews vs. God's plans. Here is an abbreviated excerpt regarding the first temptation:

At the heart of all temptations is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives. Constructing a world by our own lights, without reference to God, building on our own foundations, refusing to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion - that is the temptation that threatens us in many varied forms. Moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation. It does not invite us directly to do evil-no, that would be far too blatant. It pretends to show us a better way, where we throw ourselves into the work of actually making the world a better place. What is real is what is right there in front of us: power and bread. By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs.

Jesus of Nazareth

God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn't he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence. What must the Savior of the world do or not do? That is the question the temptations of Jesus are about.

The First Temptation:"If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread". Again and again, Jesus is reproached for having failed to prove himself sufficiently, for having hitherto failed to work that great miracle that will remove all ambiguity and every contradiction, so as to make it indisputably clear for everyone who and what he is or is not. At first, it is a question of Jesus' own hunger. Matthew, however, understands the temptations in broader terms. Is there any thing more tragic than world hunger? Isn't the problem of feeding the world the primary, true yardstick by which redemption has to be measured?

In the following pages, Pope Benedict's analysis of Jesus' first temptation (and the answer to the previous question) is to show how it is linked to the other two great narratives concerning bread in Jesus' life: the one where he fed thousands and the other one where he is still feeding millions and millions…

Pope Benedict XVI has written the most wonderful pages on revealing the face of Christ and he is doing it in a very engaging and refreshing way where he is peeling the layers of scripture for us, connecting the dots of the Jesus picture rather than burying him under a historico-deconstructo exercise. The depth of his analysis and the strength of his argument for a life centered on Christ in a world built by the Father's love are such a treat that I cannot think of anything else than recommend you to run out and get the book!

And to think that we are only at the first temptation….

Copyright ©2007 Michele Szekely

You can get the book "Jesus of Nazareth" by Pope Benedict XVI at Ignatius Press: here Jesus of Nazareth


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