1st Lent [B] 2000

Fr. Charles Irvin

Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

You and I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer countless numbers of times. In it we always ask God “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil”. Some translations of that famous prayer have it “and subject us not into the trial”. What is it that we’re praying for?

Well obviously there are various levels of temptation — some powerful and severe, others not so powerful, not so grave (not weighted with much gravity). Some temptations are of the flesh. Some temptations are of the spirit. Some involve passion… others involve cold calculation.

Whatever a temptation’s quality or type may be, at whatever level, it is always a time of testing. Our resolve, our spiritual muscle, is being tested. And if we are weak and flabby, without any muscle power at all, we will be a pushover for the devil.

Jesus also had His times of trail. The first we know about was during His time out in the desert immediately prior to beginning His public ministry. He experienced being alone and abandoned, with only His own resources to rely upon. He had his desert experience; we have ours. He knew temptation and trial just as we know them.

We need to pay attention to important words that come to us from important sources. We need, here, to pay attention to the biblical difference between what is a temptation and what is a trial. In the bible, a trail is always something far more profound than a temptation. The consequence that follows a trial has finality to it. There is a final, complete and total outcome to a trial. And deliverance from the sort of trial Jesus is talking about in teaching us His prayer is nothing less than battle with the devil himself.

We, therefore, we pray that God protect us in the time of temptation and deliver us from the trail, we are asking God to be with us when we face the devil himself.

The problem is that the devil always comes to us disguised… disguised as something or someone good. The chief weapon of the devil is to corrupt what is good. He takes goodness and then devalues it, debases it, corrupts it.

Do you have the gift of charm? Do you have a personality that can charm people? You can use it to seduce others. Do you have power over words? Are you a good wordsmith? You can use your tongue to corrupt others. Do you have the gift of intelligence? So does the devil! You can use your power of intelligence to corrupt the truth and twist it into a lie. [One of the names given in the bible to Lucifer is “The Father of Lies”]

You see, just where we are the strongest the devil will come to challenge our strength to prove his greater strength.

All of this is presented to us in the trial of Jesus Christ. His spectacular trial was before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. It was the Roman governor, Pilate, who sat on the bench, called in witnesses to present evidence, made a judgment, convicted Jesus and ordered His execution by crucifixion. That was the most famous trial in history.

We also have a glimpse into the spiritual trial Jesus suffered immediately before He was betrayed by one of His twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot. It was Judas who turned Jesus in to the Roman authorities. And what a spiritual trial it was — it is reported that Jesus suffered so terribly that He even sweat blood.

There are trials in which we are simply overcome. There are temptations that quite overwhelm us. We get into a level of evil that’s over our head. We drown in it. Which is why the waters of baptism are a counter-symbol. Christ converts the waters of death into the waters of life because we are drowned in His life.

Out in the desert, there at the beginning, the first temptations the devil put to Jesus were those that called Him to corrupt the good, to compromise His principles.

This is what is the most insidious aspect of the culture that surrounds us. It suggests that we compromise with evil. It suggests that we follow the easy way. It’s first and most effective ploy is to get us to whine “everybody’s doing it”, to feel sorry for ourselves, present ourselves as victims of an autocratic authority and scream about their unfairness. It’s unfair to deprive us, we whine, because “everybody else is doing it”. If we can get just the slightest compromise we can start the whole thing down a long descending slide until all restraints end up on the ground.

Then we can redefine sin. We can change the definition of something that is wrong into something that is okay, just so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. After that we can ridicule the whole idea of sin. We can turn the devil into a cartoon character, declare that hell doesn’t exist, and depict holy people as ridiculous, unthinking, mindless robots who can’t take care of themselves. Religion then becomes a throwaway item, a nice sort of sentimental fancy that isn’t real in the world in which we must live.

Jesus’ final temptation, you see, the one suggested to Him as He was dying while nailed, writhing in pain upon the cross, was to simply give up.

St. Augustine tells us that really evil people are not even tempted because they are totally lost. It’s not necessary for the devil to waste any energy tempting them since they are totally corrupt. These kinds of people laugh at the idea of temptation – for them, temptations are silly things that don’t even exist. They simply don’t understand them because they don’t know what’s good any more. Like Pontius Pilate who, during his trail of Jesus, asked: “Truth? What is truth?” the question today is: “Good? What is good?” Indeed, just what is it that our culture holds up to be “good”?

How many of those around us do you suppose have sold out to evil? Have sold their souls to the devil and given away their souls? Do you admire them? They are often, in today’s media, presented to us as gods and goddesses, media stars whom we should want to be like.

Evil, you see, truly is the corruption of Goodness, and the battle is going on deep within us, in our very own immortal souls. And so Christ teaches us to ask His Father to “…lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the trial.” Amen.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”