Right at the beginning of his public life Jesus was tested. As Matthew describes it: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the desert to be tested by the devil.” (Mt. 4: 1) Traditionally, we think of the temptations of Jesus as reflecting the fact that Jesus was truly human, like us in all things except sin, and thus subject to temptation.
If we look at the three temptations Jesus suffered more closely, we see they are very much like temptations that come to each of us. Jesus was tempted to selfishness, to be controlling, to be unduly concerned with human respect. Are those not like the temptations which we all experience only too often?
Jesus was tempted to use his power selfishly, to feed himself, not God’s hungry people. There are many ways in which we are tempted to selfishness, to put self first at the expense of others, to choose what gives us pleasure even when in conflict with God’s commands.
Secondly, Jesus is tempted to be controlling, to use his power for himself, to protect himself. How often do we seek to control, to have our way, without any thought of the needs of others, rather than appear vulnerable or possibly be hurt?
The third temptation is about human respect, about how others will relate to him. Jesus is tempted to pervert his mission, to develop an adoring following, rather than say the hard things that challenge people and risk not only disapproval but eventually suffering and death.
The temptation to yield to human respect is subtle. We succumb to it when we do something we know is wrong or fail to do something we should do because we fear what people will think or say about our action. It is also possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. If our motive is not right our action is tainted and has little real value.
There can be moments when we are sorely afflicted by temptation, moments when we feel weak and alone. It is then that we are to imitate Jesus as he faced temptation. At those dark moments we must trust in the love of the Father who is always present to hold us up and carry us through. We have the assurance St. Paul cited in his first letter to the Corinthians. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it.”
(1 Cor. 10: 13)