Matthew and Luke recount three temptations of Jesus that reflect the inner struggle over his own particular mission and, at the same time, address the question as to what truly matters in human life. At the heart of all temptations, as we see here, 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 foundation; 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.
, Part One, 28 Nazareth
Reflection – Here we touch upon something very deep. Pope Benedict goes on to analyze the three temptations of Jesus in some depth (and this whole section alone is worth the price of the book, in terms of the light it sheds on the human heart), but here he really gets down to the nitty-gritty heart of the matter.
God is in our way. God messes up our lives. God prevents us from doing just what we please, from running our own show and making our life exactly what and how we think our lives should be.
So, ignore God. Push him to the side. Don’t think about him. Don’t talk to him. Don’t get too close to him. Avoid eye contact. Maybe a little bit of religion, just enough so you’re not feeling too guilty, but don’t let it get out of control. One hour a week, most weeks. That’ll do it—it's like getting a flu shot.
We so desperately want to ‘construct a world by our own lights’, so desperately want to do things our own way. God—we just know it!—is going to mess all that up for us.
I truly believe this is the deep existential struggle of a great number of people, and always has been. We just want that fruit from the tree—God surely didn’t mean that commandment to apply to us, now, did He? We just want that… whatever it is we want.
And the most important thing is to get what we want. That’s the fundamental human mistake: when we decide on some level that what matters most for our happiness is that we get what we want. I think there are very few of us indeed who are absolutely free of that illusion.
And it is an illusion. Getting what you want has very little to do with happiness. People get what they want all the time, and derive little happiness from it. Or at best a fleeting happiness. True and lasting happiness comes when we become what we should be, when we become people of mercy and justice, love and fidelity. Than, even if we can’t always get what we want, we do indeed get what we need, and what we need (which the Rolling Stones never seemed to figure out) is God.
So that’s the fundamental struggle, the great temptation, the deepest question of human life. Where does my happiness lie? In my wants, or in God’s will? There is no third option, and we have to decide. Lent is a good season to ponder these matters, and to decide anew which it will be.