“Tempted by the fruit of another/Tempted but the truth was discovered” (from the song “Tempted” by the band Squeeze).
With this song stuck in my head on repeat, I used this Sunday’s Gospel to ponder: what is temptation? At its core, temptation (from something small, like eating extra dessert, to something bigger, like gossip) is a desire toward something that is not good for me or for other people. If what I’m desiring is to pray more and to be kinder, well, that’s not a temptation; it’s a call from God. God is the root of goodness, not temptation.
However, recognizing temptation is tricky because it can initially look like something good. For instance, healthy eating is good for me and for the planet. However, I can get scrupulous about it, and when I tip into that, it’s in the temptation/not-good-for-me category. Also, I’m a people pleaser, and sometimes helping someone stems, not from a pure wish to do good, but from a desire to be liked. Temptation.
Jesus is also tempted by something that seems good. The desire to eat, especially when he’s so hungry, is not bad. However, in this context, it’s a movement against God, an enticement to rely on something that’s not God. It’s not for his good. It seems like it’s all about motivation and attitude – for him and for me.
Some kinds of temptation are more obviously wrong, but they have a pull on me anyway. There’s something in me, and probably in most of us, that sometimes moves away from God. I don’t know why, but it’s there.
In the Gospel reading, even Jesus is tempted to test God or to worship that which is not God. When I picture the devil tempting me to worship him, I almost laugh because I picture a cartoon guy in a red suit. However, when I think of my unhealthy attachments, it’s not so funny. I find myself attached to lots of things that are not God, like my phone, which pulls me away from conversation and relationship. Like the car I drive, which gives me the illusion of independence. Like Netflix, which keeps me from praying and being present to my life.
We reflected on this reading in our small group this week, and what I came to see from our sharing is how much we are like Jesus. We are tempted, sure, but we are also led by the Spirit. And maybe that’s what we do in response to temptation – allow the Spirit to lead us. We may stray from time to time, but the more we allow the Spirit to fill us, the more we can be led by it.
The call I hear in the reading is to try and recognize what leads me: is it the Spirit of God or something else? If it’s the Spirit, then I am on the way toward God and toward good. If what is leading me is not of God, then I can always change directions.
May God give us all good discernment and the discipline to follow where the Spirit leads!
What tends to be sources of temptation for you? What is it about these that makes them have such a hold on you?
Do you have any attachments that are not of God? What do they do for you?
How do you know when you are being led by the Spirit? How do you know when you are following something else?
What do you need from God as you reflect on temptations and attachments and move into this season of Lent?
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, and dancing.