Overcoming temptations with Christ

Carl Heinrich Bloch - Jesus Tempted

The temptations of Our Lord by the devil in the wilderness are contemptible. The devil fails to understand who Christ is, and appeals to greed and pride. It is ludicrous for the devil to ask Our Lord to worship him, because Our Lord is truly God. It is stupid to offer Christ all the kingdoms of the world – Christ is the creator of the universe. Even His human nature, being sinless, is not vulnerable to temptations to greed and pride.

However the devil returns later “at the appointed time” to torment Our Lord with the weight of all the sins of the human race. This is at the time of the passion of Christ, beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In His infinite love for us, Christ is overwhelmed by the disaster of evil as it has afflicted his beloved children. The anguish of this is even greater than the physical torture of the passion. St Luke tells us that Our Lord sweated blood, a graphic detail which shows the psychological and spiritual agony to which He was subjected. We sometimes see footage of the horrific suffering of parents in war-torn areas when their children are killed. Our Lord experienced this horror not only for the physical degradation of those He loves, but for their moral and spiritual corruption and death. This is what He overcame by offering the sacrifice of His life on the cross, a sacrifice of infinite value because it is the sacrifice of God made man.

It is not true to say that “Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but He did not sin.” This implies that He might have sinned. The translation of Hebrews 4:15 would be much closer to the meaning of the original Greek text if we said with Ronald Knox that Jesus “has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless.” (see also: Clearing the confusion over the word "temptation")

We use the word temptation for our tendency to overeat, to put others down by gossiping, to look at impure images on the internet, to neglect our prayers because we can’t be bothered. Our Lord did not suffer temptations like that because He did not have disordered desires or past habits of sin. The temptations, or better the trials, of Christ were external assaults of the devil. They were contemptible when considered as appeals to ordinary human weakness which Our Lord did not have, but they were supremely malevolent in attacking Christ through the sins and evils of his beloved in the world, sins and evils which destroy the spiritual good of the human person created lovingly by Him for the perfect happiness of heaven.

In our own lives we do have to overcome temptations that appeal to pride, greed, sloth and the other capital sins, as well as the bad habits that we have developed over time. During Lent, we battle against these temptations by our penance, asking God for the grace to grow in holiness, and fidelity to Him. Put simply, when we say “No” to some legitimate pleasure, we engage in that spiritual discipline which enables us to say “No” when it really matters, when we are tempted to sin.

We undertake penances not simply in order to keep a set of rules or to pride ourselves on our self-discipline, still less to engage in a physical fitness regime. The purpose of our penance is to remove the obstacles that prevent us from loving God, and to open the way to growing in His grace. At the heart of our spiritual struggle there should be a genuinely personal encounter in which we draw closer to the person of Jesus Christ, lovingly bringing our lives into a deeper friendship with Him. As we meditate on the passion of Christ in the stations of the cross, we can see how close we are to the Heart of Christ, how much our salvation matters to Him, and what a glorious destiny He has purchased for us at the price of His own precious blood.

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