The Triumph of Jesus, an Example for us

Duccio - The Temptation on the Mount
Duccio – The Temptation on the Mount. (1308-1311) Frick Collection, New York
Our Lord allows the devil to tempt Him and resists those temptations. By doing so, He demonstrates His power and authority over the evil spirits. The evil spirits exist and are malevolent, but we need not fear them if we are clothed with the power of Christ through our Baptism, and through sanctifying grace. They can only directly harm us if we are foolish enough to let them in by dabbling in the occult. We must keep far away from any such things.

Our Lord also shows us by example that we must resist the temptations of the capital vices of gluttony, avarice and pride, and the evil works which follow in their wake.

St John Chrysostom explains that temptation is brought to its fulfilment through suggestion, delight and consent. First we become aware of something that seems attractive because of its pleasure, power or some other apparent attraction. The next step is to turn over that temptation in our mind and heart and to revel in its attraction. Then, if we fail to cast it aside, we might consent to it and commit ourselves to it.

For us, the source of temptation is not only the direct assault of the suggestions of the devil: these may in fact be quite rare because we are so weak that we almost create our own temptations. The disordered desires consequent on the weakness of original sin which we inherit, do most of the work very often.

Jesus Christ, being truly God made man, does not suffer from this moral weakness and therefore His temptations are limited to those external suggestions which He permits the devil to make in order to show us how to triumph. We do not believe that our Lord was subject to disordered desires and addictions because His humanity is perfect and united in the one divine person of the Word made flesh.

The weakness we inherit is the reason for our daily spiritual life being described by the Fathers and Saints as a spiritual battle. We need to fight against sin and against temptation, to overcome, to be strengthened, and to grow in virtue, the habit of doing what is right and good. As the Saints say, in this battle, we are never beaten as long as we do not lay down our arms or leave the field. The arms which we bear are not physical weapons, but the spiritual weapons of of prayer, fasting and charity. A warrior also needs some protection. For us, the armour of God that protects us, is His grace which is He grants to us generously when we ask for it.

Lenten penances are a kind of training for this struggle. We deny ourselves legitimate things such as food, in order to be able to deny ourselves the attractions of sin. This is not to deny our human nature, but to affirm its genuine meaning. We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are fulfilled by our friendship with God. Lent is a time for us to grow in the joy which comes from a heart that is at peace with the Lord. St Paul’s words to St Timothy encourage us in this holy season:

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. (1 Tim 1.17-19)