Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Jesus does not belong in a Marvel Comic or even a DC Comic because he was not a superman or for the matter any other kind of super hero. Even though the musical says that Jesus was a super star he was not one of those either.
In the verses that precede today's lesson, Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized by John. It had to be a high point in Jesus' life. The voice of God assured Jesus that he was the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit descended bodily as a dove. It must have been one of those aha! moments for Jesus when everything came together.
Now we see Jesus, the Son of God, being led into the wilderness to be tempted. We've heard this story so many times that we somehow imagine it was not difficult for Jesus to resist temptation. After all, he was the Son of God. Temptation for Jesus, however, was very real. The tempter was toying with Jesus, trying to undermine Jesus' certainty, enticing Jesus to just say yes. Jesus said no. When we look at the temptations that Jesus faced, we see that they were attractive options for Jesus. Good possibilities for the way he would do his ministry. "Turn these stones into bread." Well, what's wrong with bread? It would taste wonderful after you've been fasting for 40 days. What's wrong with feeding the hungry children of the world? What's wrong with meeting people at the point of their basic needs? "I'll give you all of the kingdoms of the world." Well, wasn't Jesus sent to be king? Wasn't it just good politics to get him on the throne as quickly as possible? "Jump down from the top of the temple." People then thought that the Messiah would show himself to be God's anointed one by appearing at the pinnacle of the temple. What could be wrong with being the kind of Messiah people expected? And proving it with a bit of flair?
On the surface, these things are attractive. Good ways for Jesus to do his ministry. Give people what they want. Feed them and they will come to you. Take a few political short cuts. Be the kind of Messiah that people want and expect. Dazzle them a bit. Do what God has called you to do but do it the easy way. Go for status and power.
Jesus just says no. So, what does the story mean for us? What does it mean that Jesus, the Son of God, would be tempted? Why would God permit such a thing? Not only permit it, but also lead Jesus into it? It is God's Spirit, for heaven's sake, who leads Jesus into the wilderness.
On the simple level, the temptation of Jesus can be understood as an example story for us. We can learn from Jesus how to handle the temptation in our own lives. We can use the story as a model how to resist temptation. When temptation comes, just say no.
An example story isn't good enough, however. We have this story about Jesus being tempted because we human beings are not very good about resisting temptation. There is something about us that makes temptation almost irresistible. Jesus knew that.
Jesus knew that when Adam and Eve were tempted, they gave in. They couldn't resist the temptation. Jesus knew that Adam and Even just couldn't help themselves.
Jesus knew that when God's people in the wilderness were tempted to build a golden calf, they gave in. They couldn't resist the temptation. Jesus knew God's people couldn't help themselves. Jesus knew that when David the King, a man after God's own heart, saw Bathsheba, he gave in. He couldn't resist the temptation. Jesus knew that poor David just couldn't help himself.
Jesus knew that when you and I face temptation today, an example story would not be enough. An example story will help us to try harder. Give us models how to just say no. But when push comes to shove, we are not very good at saying no. When it comes to things that look bad, the things like rape, murder, and robbing banks, we do pretty well.
It's the smaller things of life that are difficult for us to resist. The little things like what he doesn't know won't hurt him. The little things like juicy gossip. The little thing of having one more cookie when we are watching our weight. The little things like we can have it all. The little things like we are in charge here. The "little" things that in God's eyes are big things-self-aggrandizement, cruel words, anger and hate. When we come face to face with those attractive temptations-more often than not, we give in. We just say yes. Jesus knew that we just can't help ourselves.
So, what the temptation story really is, is a story about the Son of God who was struggling with what was necessary because we so often give in to temptation ourselves. Jesus is God's Son, the God who came to be born in human flesh and to be tempted as we are. It is a story about Jesus who stood in the place of all God's people down through history then and now, who have been tempted and just gave in. It is a story about the Son of God who was faced with a choice. Jesus had to decide whether to be a popular and successful Messiah-or, to do his ministry God's way. Jesus chose death on a Cross because it was the only way to help people who just can't help themselves when it comes to giving in to temptation.
The Gospel lesson is about the kind of God we have. The kind of God, who came in human flesh and decided to do his ministry God's way. The temptation account is Jesus' choice that he would give up his life on the cross. To do something about our weakness when it comes to temptation. Jesus did not do away with the things that tempt us when he went to the cross. All the little big things that entice us to make ourselves look good, to seek personal gain at the cost of others well-being-still are there, and sometimes we just can't say no. We can't help ourselves.
What Jesus did on the cross was to give us the kind of help we need when we give in to temptation. On the cross Jesus gave us an antidote for our inability to resist temptation, and for the result of our giving in-sin. Jesus neutralized the toxin of our sin. So that God stands here, in the emergency room of our lives, with a syringe full of forgiveness. Ready for the ambulance to bring in all those who just said yes. God, the Great Physician, injects us with forgiveness, so that in Christ, our giving in to temptation, and our sin, won't kill us. So that in Christ, we shall never die.
We must not think that the three temptations came and went like scenes in a play. We must rather think of Jesus deliberately retiring to this lonely place and for forty days wrestling with the problem of how he could win people over. It was a long battle which never ceased until the cross, and the story ends by saying that the tempter left Jesus—for a season.
The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. This wilderness was not a wilderness of sand. It was covered by little bits of limestone exactly like loaves. The tempter said to Jesus, ‘If you want people to follow you, use your wonderful powers to give them material things.’ He was suggesting that Jesus should bribe people into following him. Back came Jesus’ answer in a quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3. ‘No one’, he said, ‘will ever find life in material things.’
The task of Christianity is not to produce new conditions, although the weight and voice of the Church must be behind all efforts to make life better. Its real task is to produce new men and women; and given the new men and women, the new conditions will follow.
In the second temptation Jesus in imagination stood upon a mountain from which the whole civilized world could be seen. The tempter said, ‘Worship me, and all will be yours.’ This is the temptation to compromise. The devil said, ‘I have got people in my grip. Don’t set your standards so high. Strike a bargain with me. Just compromise a little with evil and people will follow you.’ Back came Jesus’ answer, ‘God is God, right is right and wrong is wrong. There can be no compromise in the war on evil.’ Once again Jesus quotes Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13, 10, 20).
It is a constant temptation to seek to win people over by compromising with the standards of the world. G. K. Chesterton said that the tendency of the world is to see things in terms of an indeterminate grey; but the duty of the Christian is to see things in terms of black and white. As Thomas Carlyle said, ‘The Christian must be consumed by the conviction of the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.’
In the third temptation Jesus in imagination saw himself on the pinnacle of the Temple where Solomon’s Porch and the Royal Porch met. There was a sheer drop of 450 feet into the Kedron Valley below. This was the temptation to do something sensational for the people. ‘No,’ said Jesus, ‘you must not make senseless experiments with the power of God’ (Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus saw quite clearly that a sensational action would cause amazement for a short time; but he also saw that sensationalism would never last. The hard way of service and of suffering leads to the cross, but after the cross to the crown. (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] p52–53)
R H Stein sees these temptation in a slightly different way. Stein points out that the present participle (literally being tempted) indicates that Jesus was tempted throughout the forty days and that the three temptations were the culmination of this time of temptation. Stein points out that Jesus ate nothing during those days. Did Luke intend us to interpret this literally, or was this his equivalent of Matthew’s “fasting”? The latter commonly involved abstinence from certain foods or from all food for certain parts of the day.
When we examine the first temptation, we find Satan telling Jesus to make these stones into bread. Was this temptation a challenge to provide a sign (such as when God gave manna in the wilderness) for Jesus to gain a following? This is unlikely since no audience was present and the miracle was not to provide manna (loaves of bread, plural) for the people but a single loaf for Jesus’ own hunger. Or was this a temptation to cause Jesus to doubt that he really is the Son of God? This also is unlikely since Jesus’ answer did not deal with such a thought. More likely Jesus was tempted to use his power as God’s Son for his own ends. Jesus clearly rejected such a view of his messianic role since it would indicate a lack of trust on his part in the provision and care of his Heavenly Father.
Next, we find Satan leading Jesus to a high place. How was this done? Was it by walking? By some sort of levitation? We are not told because for Luke what was important was not the how but the what that took place. There Jesus was shown in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. Luke in his wording (esp. “in an instant”) suggested that he understood this temptation at least in part as a visionary experience.
For it has been given to me. “Has been given “is a divine passive, i.e., God has placed this world’s kingdoms under the devil’s temporary rule. God is clearly sovereign, but within his permissive will the evil is temporarily given this authority. This statement explains why the next one is true. And I can give it to anyone I want to. That God’s Son would one day reign over the world’s kingdoms was clear for Luke. The issue is how he would achieve this. Would it be through the shortcut the devil offered or by submitting to God’s will, which involved suffering and death? The devil offered Jesus a path without the cross to messiahship, and Luke assumed that the devil had in fact the authority to offer the world’s kingdoms to Jesus. However, there was one big difference. Satan said if you worship me, it will all be yours. God’s Son was asked to give to the devil what belonged to God alone and thus to assume a different kind of messiahship from that to which God had called him. Like every believer, Jesus too was faced with the need and choice to take up the cross.
It is interesting to note that Jesus responded to the worship of the Lord your God and serve him only. Both Matthew and Luke differed from the LXX translation of Deut 6:13 (and the Hebrew) in their use of the term “worship” instead of “fear.” This suggests their use of a common source.
The third temptation was introduced by this conditional phrase. For it is written. Even the devil can quote Scripture, and here he sought to support his challenge to Jesus from the Scripture itself. Defeated by Jesus’ use of the Word of God in the previous two temptations, the devil sought to use the Scriptures for his own purposes. There is no evidence that Ps 91:11–12, which the devil quoted, was interpreted messianically in Judaism; but if the psalm states a truth concerning any believer, how much more (a fortiori) is this true of the Messiah. Yet knowing Scripture is not enough; one must interpret it correctly. Stein asks was Jesus being tempted here to perform a great sign before the people and thus prove that he is the Messiah? The weakness of this interpretation is that Luke did not mention an audience for whom such a sign could be performed. Furthermore, Jesus’ answer was not directed at such an interpretation. The temptation appears to have been to tempt God by putting him to the test by forcing him to fulfill his promise of protection. It needs to be underlined that true worship does not seek to dictate to God how he must fulfill his covenantal promises. (Stein, R. H. Luke [1992, Nashville] Vol. 24, pp. 147–148)
Modern day images of Jesus sometimes work to Jesus’ disadvantage. The wonder of Jesus is that he struggled like each of us through everything. Jesus just like us was tempted. He shows us again and again how you can be ordinary without loosing your love of God.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Jesus was not Superman. Many today, including some devout Christians, see him as a kind of Christian version of the movie character, able to do whatever he wanted, to ‘zap’ reality into any shape he liked. In the movies, Superman looks like an ordinary human being, but really, he isn’t. Underneath the disguise he is all-powerful, a kind of computer-age super-magician. That’s not the picture of Jesus we get in the New Testament.
Luke has just reminded us of Jesus’ membership in the family of Adam. If there had been any doubt about his being human, Luke underlines his sharing of our flesh and blood in this vivid scene of temptation. If Jesus is the descendant of Adam, he must now face not only what Adam faced but the powers that had been unleashed through human rebellion and sin. Long years of habitual rebellion against the creator God had brought about a situation in which the world, the flesh and the devil had become used to twisting human beings into whatever shape they wanted.
In particular, after his baptism, Jesus faced the double question: what does it mean to be God’s son in this special, unique way? And what sort of messiahship was he to pursue? There had, after all, been many royal movements in his time, not only the well-known house of Herod but also other lesser-known figures whom we meet in the historian Josephus. Characters like Simon (not one of the Simons we know in the Bible) and Athronges gathered followers and were hailed as kings, only to be cut down by Roman or Herodian troops. There were would-be prophets who promised their followers signs from heaven, great miracles to show God’s saving power. They too didn’t last long. What was Jesus to do?
The three temptations can be read as possible answers to this question. The story does not envisage Jesus engaged in conversation with a visible figure to whom he could talk as one to another; the devil’s voice appears as a string of natural ideas in his own head. They are plausible, attractive, and make, as we would say, a lot of sense. God can’t want his beloved son to be famished with hunger, can he? If God wants Jesus to become sovereign over the world (that, after all, is what Gabriel had told Mary), then why not go for it in one easy stride? If Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, why not prove it by spectacular displays of power?
Jesus responds to the devil, not by attempting to argue (arguing with temptation is often a way of playing with the idea until it becomes too attractive to resist), but by quoting scripture. The passages he draws on come from the story of Israel in the wilderness: he is going to succeed where Israel failed. Physical needs and wants are important, but loyalty to God is more important still. Jesus is indeed to become the world’s true lord, but the path to that status, and the mode of it when it arrives, is humble service, not a devilish seeking after status and power. Trust in God doesn’t mean acting stupidly to force God into doing a spectacular rescue. The power that Jesus already has, which he will shortly display in healings, is to be used for restoring others to life and strength, not for cheap stunts. His status as God’s son commits him, not to showy prestige, but to the strange path of humility, service and finally death. The enemy will return to test this resolve again. For the moment, an initial victory is won, and Jesus can begin his public career knowing that though struggles lie ahead the foe has been beaten on the first field that really matters.
We are unlikely to be tempted in the same way as Jesus was, but every Christian will be tested at the points which matter most in her or his life and vocation. It is a central part of Christian vocation to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, to distinguish them from the voice of God, and to use the simple but direct weapons provided in scripture to rebut the lies with truth.
The Christian discipline of fighting temptation is not about self-hatred, or rejecting parts of our God-given humanity. It is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity and, like someone learning a musical instrument, discovering how to tune it and play it to its best possibility. At the heart of our resistance to temptation is love and loyalty to the God who has already called us his beloved children in Christ, and who holds out before us the calling to follow him in the path which leads to the true glory. In that glory lies the true happiness, the true fulfilment, which neither world, nor flesh, nor devil can begin to imitate. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p42–45)
“Superman’s story goes something like this… From above, a heavenly father sends his only son to save the Earth. When he comes down to Earth, he’ll be raised by two parents who originally had the names Mary and Joseph – now this is the Superman story we are talking about,” Skelton says.
When Superman comes of age, he travels to the arctic wilderness to commune with his father’s spirit, which mirrors Christ’s journey into the desert.
“At age 30, Superman will embark on his public mission – this is the same age as Christ,” he explains. “And then Superman will, in his mission as ministry, fight for truth and justice, two fundamental, biblical principles to base a mission on.”
He comes back to life after being killed in the last comic book published in 1992 called The Death of Superman. Then, Superman comes back to Earth – this is where the storyline in 2006's Superman Returns picks up.
“Within the specifics of that story, I know of no other story that mirrors it so closely than the Christ story,” Skelton says.
The original 1930s Superman comic strip, created by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster in the 1930s, wasn’t supposed to reflect the Gospel story. The two Jewish teenagers simply stumbled onto the symbolic plot when they were creating an adventurous tale about an out-of-this-world superhero.
Siegel and Shuster drew from biblical heroes, such as Samson, who was the strongest man in the Bible, and Moses, who helped free God's people from slavery. The familiar storyline just happened to be one they used because it sounded like the most logical way to layout the story of a great hero.
Superman's origin came out of the loss of Jerry’s father, who was fatally shot by a robber, at a time when America was battling with the Great Depression and the world was just about to begin its fight with Hitler.
“They were looking for a savior figure they could relate to, they could envision, something to give them hope, inspire them,” Skelton says.
X-Men director Bryan Singer brought Superman back to the big screen with his movie, Superman Returns. Although the correlation to Jesus’ story could have easily been left out, filmmakers have kept its strong ties to the Bible. Singer, who is not a Christian, also determined not to overlook it in Superman Returns.
Skelton says, “When asked what [the movie] was about, [the director] said, ‘Superman Returns is about what happens when messiahs come back.”
Besides the parallels between the two plots, strong symbolism abounds in the adventures of Superman that point directly to God. Skelton’s book specifically discusses the meaning found within Superman’s costume. One particular symbol that is interesting to Skelton is the triangular shield, which holds Superman’s S-shaped family crest.
Historically, a triangle is the symbol for the Trinity, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The triangle used on Superman’s costume points down signifying God’s relationship with man and the gift of His only Son to mankind.
Other superheroes have come onto the scene through the years; Batman, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, and Wonder Woman are just a few. So, why has Superman maintained worldwide prominence for more than 75 years while others have not?
According to Skelton, people are intrigued by Superman simply because of his close resemblance to Christ.
“Even apart from the special powers, the character of Superman is something that mirrors the character of Christ,” Skelton says. “Superman actually illustrates the beatitudes in the same way that Christ would….”
After watching Superman Returns back in 2006, Skelton talked with a non-Christian friend about the movie.
“He said, ‘I can’t stop thinking about it. Do you know that movie spoke more to me about Jesus than The Passion of the Christ?’” Skelton explains. “And the reason that was is because The Passion of the Christ was a very straightforward presentation. It was obviously about Jesus Christ, and so it was easily dismissed by a non-believer.”
What Skelton gleaned from that conversation was the incredible power of film.
“It spoke to his heart before he realized what it was saying,” Skelton says. “It spoke to him about the one true Savior before he could reject that he needs a one true savior.”
“What Superman can remind us is that Christ is the universal savior, the savior that came not just to save one person or to save a city full of people, but in fact came to save everyone who ever lived who comes to him.” (http://www1.cbn.com/movies/superman-and-jesus-supermans-origin-and-parallels-jesus)
Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical started as a rock opera concept album before its Broadway debut in 1971. The musical is mostly sung-through, with little spoken dialogue. The story is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It depicts political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not present in the Bible.
The work's depiction offers a free interpretation of the psychology of Jesus and the other characters. A large part of the plot focuses on the character of Judas, who is depicted as a tragic figure dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples and fearful for the harm that may result. Contemporary attitudes and sensibilities (as well as slang) pervade the lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly contain many intentional anachronisms.
Nathan Horwitt, an expert on mushrooms, has said that the mushroom Amanita phallides is the deadliest of all mushrooms. The common name for this species of Amanita is the "death cap." No antidote exists, and the death rate for those who happen to eat it is 50-90%. Even after victims have recovered from the abdominal pain and the vomiting, and are home from the hospital, they can die two or three days later of liver or kidney failure.
This killer of a mushroom presents itself in a very attractive way. It looks, and tastes, as if it's good for you. Poisonous as it is, the Amanita mushroom is also one of the most beautiful of mushrooms. With its soft cream-colored cap, it looks delectable. It's extremely tasty. With their dying breath, people say it is the most delicious mushroom they've ever eaten. (Source unknown)
It is nearly impossible for us to resist temptation. We see that in our children at a very young age. One evening several years ago, I watched my granddaughter Melissa build a house with her Lincoln logs. Granddaughter Jennifer watched Melissa also. Then sweet, innocent-looking, angelic little Jennifer, who had just turned two, got down from the chair where she was sitting, walked over to Melissa's house, stood there a couple seconds, and kicked the house over. Just like that. You could see it in her face. Temptation presented itself, and Jennifer just couldn't help herself. She gave in.
A comic strip shows a woman wondering if she will be caught should she pack the hotel's towel and take it home with her. Underneath it says, "Your conscience keeps you from doing bad things by manufacturing the hormone 'getcaughtisone.'" (Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich, Real Life Adventures [newspaper source unknown])
"So temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction." (John Owen, On Temptation [www.cccl.org/o/owen/temptation/chapter1.html])
Overheard in a restaurant: "That Carol! She has really messed this thing up. I just wish she would go away and let us pick up the pieces. If I weren't a Christian, I would hate her. As a matter of fact, maybe I do hate her!"
Careless and thoughtless words may cause lasting damage to another person. Diane White writes about her experience with the words "everybody knows that." Hear those words, and Diane says:
"…I am back in the eighth grade, in English class, and the teacher has acknowledged my raised hand and I am standing up…. I don't remember what I said…. But I remember what she said, 'Everybody knows that.'"
"I sat down. I sat down for the rest of the year."
Diane goes on to describe how those terrible words caused her to shut down in school. A new and supportive teacher the next year helped to make things better, but the words still sting. (Diane White, Thoughtless remarks cut deep, imprinting scars upon the soul [written for the Boston Globe, date unknown])
Lisa was raised in a good family. More than that she was raised in the church, and much of her young life was spent in church, with church people. Devastated when the youth minister she adored left the church suddenly, Lisa began to hang out with school friends, whose values were nothing like those to which she was accustomed. Gradually, Lisa gave in to temptation and began doing all the things her new friends did-smoking, drinking, doing drugs. Ultimately, Lisa became an addict and ended up in jail.
It was her grandmother's words that cut through Lisa's rebellion. Her grandmother had never spoken a harsh word to her in her life, until now. "Your grandfather and I are disgusted with you. When you get out of jail, you need to go back to church and straighten yourself up. You need to read your Bible."
Finally, Lisa decided to listen to her grandmother. She began reading the Bible. She said there are more Bibles to read in jail than anything else. Lisa's relationship with Christ was renewed. Back in the church, she was received with open arms and forgiveness. Through continued involvement in the church and a centering prayer group, Lisa has experienced God's forgiveness, and is living her life anew.
Walter Wangerin tells a story from his childhood. He was seven years old. His mother was busy mowing the lawn. Walter was alone in the kitchen, and he was tempted to see just how powerful it would feel to plug in an electrical cord-an electrical cord that he knew was in a kitchen drawer. A cord that was not attached to an appliance, but had bare copper wires at its end.
His mother was outside, so why not?
Walter got the cord out of the drawer and plugged it in. The wires glowed red just as he knew they would. Then he began swinging the cord with great excitement, faster and faster. All of a sudden there was an explosive crack, and Walter was thrown backward onto the floor, pulling the cord out of the socket. The bare wires had struck metal-the refrigerator.
Walter was okay. But the refrigerator was not.
It bore the marks of Walter's sin. It was burned black. His heart was filled with terror. Now his mother would know what he had done.
Thinking the refrigerator was forever damaged; Walter walked over and touched it. He discovered that the soot could be wiped off; he got a rag and cleaned off the door. The refrigerator was restored to its former self. And Walter's sin was wiped away. (Walter Wangerin, Jr., Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book About Children and Parents [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993], pp. 49-52)
"Teach us to name what is evil and refuse it: even when it seems normal. Even when it seems necessary; even when it is commanded by religion." (Elie Wiesel)
Of the many films of temptation some of the best are Treasure of the Sierra Madre, A Simple Plan, and The Crimes of Father Amaro. In the first two the protagonists show little evidence of spiritual values or practices, moving through life relying on their own power. They deal with the human greed for wealth, echoing the sentiment of the author of 1 Timothy that "the love of money is the root of all evil." In Treasure an ordinary American named Dobs joins up in Mexico with an older and a younger American to pan for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Their efforts result in an increasing amount of gold for each, all going well for them. But then Dobs begins to worry about the gold-are the other two planning to gang up and rob him of his share? He demands that they divide it up so that each can hide it from the others. This is not enough for him, however, his suspicion continually growing so that he becomes paranoid. In Plan three ordinary hunters come across a small plane crashed in the snowy northern woods. They are surprised to discover that the plane contains a dead pilot and a large cache of money. Surmising that it is drug money, they debate what to do with it. The older brother wants to turn it in, but his younger sibling and friend convince him that they should keep it. Thus, the older, and smarter, brother devises the "simple plan" that involves hiding the cash and waiting for a period before spending it, and even then only in small amounts so as to avoid any suspicion about where they obtained the money. His wife is against the plan at first, but the temptation of what the money can do for them proves too strong, and she goes along. In both films the characters' succumbing to temptation leads to disaster for all involved. It does not seem to be so for Father Amaro, who gives in to his sexual urges and enters into an affair with the beautiful parish educational assistant. He concocts a plan that involves lying about her desiring to become a nun, requiring him to spend long periods alone with her in order to "prepare" her for her vocation. However, their sexual trysts end in disaster for the girl, but the priest seems to escape from any consequences. Under the protection of the bishop who is grooming the young priest to take his place someday, Fr. Amaro's crimes seem to go unpunished. However, the discerning viewer will conclude that the ecclesiastical success, which will come his way, will be hollow and unsatisfactory for him, especially during those moments in the still of the night when he thinks of the other priests who remain true to their vocation to serve the poor. None of the people in these films will know the victory which the Man from Nazareth achieved in the wilderness, and which he offers to all who turn to him during their moments of temptation.
In the gospel music film, The Fighting Temptations the title has a double meaning. Darren Hill has returned to his hometown in Georgia to claim his inheritance from his aunt, a staunch member of the church that Darren and his mother had once belonged. He is surprised to learn that it will be his only if he stays and revives the church choir and take it to the state gospel choir competition. He reluctantly does so, assembling a strange assortment of members from the candidates who come to his tryouts. One of them is Lily, a friend from his childhood and now a talented lounge singer. Despite objections from certain church members, opposed to secular singing, Lily is signed up for the choir. During the discussion over what to call the choir, the title "Fighting Temptations" comes up. Lily feels that it is a good one in that it is in fighting temptation that we become strong spiritually. Darren will go through and succumb to temptations before he learns this lesson-he wants to return to the lucrative, fast track of New York City-but learn it he eventually does.
In the Talmud, the commentary on the scriptures, keeping Sabbath is making a sacred space in time. It is outlined by now fewer than 542 rules. Before you make fun of the Jews' specificity, make sure you remember the last conversation in your congregation about the right way to do communion. Also imagine what it was like to be a people wandering in the wilderness. They made these rules in order to keep their families together.
"If we don't comply, they are threatening us with liberation" says a New Yorker cartoon. Another one has a man speaking to a psychiatrist; he tells him just how de-eroticized his life is, how he is bored even in his own body. The Psychiatrist says, "Have you tried Substance Abuse?" I might ask if you have tried really keeping the Sabbath as a way to re-eroticize your life. Erotic energy, by the way, is transsexual. It's not just what happens in bed. It has to do with a capacity to love life, to be as Murray Kempton put it so well, when asked what he was interested in. He said, "Everything, and nothing less."
One prisoner says to another in jail, "The truth serum made you say some very hurtful things."
We are often tempted to do evil to others as a way of avenging the evil that others have done to us. In Evil: An Investigation, Lance Morrow, a writer for Time magazine, tells of a trip he took to the Balkan region in November of 1992 with Elie Wiesel. Shortly after they checked into the Inter-Continental Hotel in Belgrade and went to their room, someone slid a large manila envelope under the door. When Morrow opened it, he found dozens of photographs of corpses. Captions on the pictures claimed that the dead were Serbs who had been murdered by the Bosnian Muslims. The gruesome photographs depicted men holding decapitated heads in their hands, and other pictures showed blood-covered women and children. Morrow assumed that the envelope was a Serbian press kit. The implied message of the photographs was: "Welcome to our neighborhood. Before you write about all the evil the Serbs have committed, take a look at what kind of evil our neighbors have done to us."
A huge factor in resisting temptation is to take the attitude: "Enough is enough." Even if we've engaged in some wrong before, or even if others around us have engaged in some wrong in the past, we need to have the resolve to put those misdeeds behind us and move on. Part of the reason for the carnage in Bosnia during the 1990s was because of the people's inability to do that. For instance, much of the Serbian antipathy toward the Muslims goes back to 1389 when the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Kosovo defeated the Serbs. Sultan Murad I led his troops to victory over Prince Lazar's Serbian forces on their way to eventually capturing Vienna, beginning a 500-year period of Muslim domination in the region.
"Evil" derives from the Old English word yvel. The basic meaning of that term implies "something that exceeds due measure" or "something overstepping proper limits." Is that not what evil and temptation involve-overstepping the limits that God has established for us?
If we can learn to control the small temptations that enter our lives, we'll be much better equipped to handle the larger temptations when they come our way. In an important study in 1982, sociologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson contended that police should pay attention to routine incidents of social order, in addition to focusing on murders, rapes, and robberies. For example, they suggested that authorities should clamp down on property owners who leave broken windows unrepaired. Their thinking was that when people see broken windows, that communicates that the community is not concerned about upholding norms, and therefore some people will interpret that as permission to violate the norms themselves. In contrast, if buildings surround people where it is evident that people take pride in maintaining a good appearance, the message that gets communicated is that that community upholds its norms. Former Mayor Giuliani of New York City employed that same basic approach in reducing crime in New York City. By clamping down on subway turnstile jumpers and tracking down graffiti artists-admittedly small offenders in the bigger scheme of things-people in New York learned that if small violations won't be tolerated, more serious violations definitely would not be tolerated. As a result, during Giuliani's tenure as mayor, not only did he reduce petty crimes, but he also saw a reduction in more violent forms of crime.
In large part, resisting temptation requires self-control. When students graduate from Harvard Law School, they are reminded to think of the law as "the wise restraints that make men free." Likewise, in the patriotic song, "America the Beautiful," the lyrics declare: "America, America / God mend thine every flaw. / Confirm thy soul in self-control / Thy liberty in law."
A lot of travelers and vacationers must succumb to temptation. This past year Holiday Inn announced an amnesty program for all the people who have stolen towels from their hotels over the years. Holiday Inn estimates that guests take about 500,000 of their towels every year. The amnesty was offered in a lighthearted fashion. Those who came forward were encouraged to tell about what they've been using the hotel's towels for. For every person who came forward, the hotel chain said it would donate $1 to a charity that helps children with life-threatening illnesses. For those who had the 25 most interesting towel stories, each of them was to receive a limited edition souvenir Holiday Inn towel. One man who responded said that he took a towel from the Holiday Inn where he spent his honeymoon, as a memento of that night. Later his wife left him, but he said he still has the towel. A spokesperson for Holiday Inn indicated that the hotel doesn't really mind if people take the towels. Their replacement cost is about $3 each.
Germans are giving into temptation in record numbers. More Germans than ever before are big fans of lust. They can't get enough anger and greed. And they're willing to stand in line for some envy, gluttony, pride, and sloth. That's because the ice cream maker Langnese last year began to name flavors after the Seven Deadly Sins. A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Hamburg denounced what they were doing: "These sins are serious matters. We cannot support something which advocates turning away from God." The ice cream maker, however, claims that they're not trying to glamorize sin. Rather, they say, they're just trying to sell seven great flavors of ice cream.
Focusing on God is a key element in resisting temptation. Dr. Joseph Mercola, in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (March 2003), reports on how religious teenagers are much less likely to engage in harmful behaviors. In a survey of 1,182 adolescents in grades 7-10, they found that teens who considered religion to be a meaningful part of their lives were only half as likely to use drugs as those who didn't value religion. Similarly, religious young people were found to be substantially less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink heavily, or use marijuana.
Some people engage in temptation even when there is a substantial risk they are going to harm themselves in the process. In the early part of the 1900s, during the Prohibition era, the Volstead Act required manufacturers to render their alcohol unsafe to drink. Although alcohol was forbidden for personal use during Prohibition, there was still a need to produce alcohol for manufacturing purposes. To make sure that private citizens did not break into the alcohol that was still being produced, the Anti-Saloon League pressured the government to require that toxic chemicals be put into the alcohol as a strong deterrent to any would-be drinkers. But even so, many people followed their temptations and still tried to drink that poisoned alcohol. Almost every holiday weekend during Prohibition, the newspapers would record deaths due to those poisoned spirits. During the Christmas holiday season of 1926, 23 New Yorkers died and 89 others were hospitalized because they drank chemical-laced alcohol.
It's one thing to name something as a sin; it's another thing to resist the temptation to engage in that sin. In an article a couple years ago in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers compared sexual behavior in the United States and in Great Britain. The study revealed that American men and women engage in much more premarital sex. Americans are twice as likely as British people to have 21 or more sexual partners in their lifetime. At the same time, however, Americans are more likely to label promiscuity as a sin. Of American men, 25% say that premarital sex is always wrong, as compared to only about 8% of British men who say the same thing.
Part of the debate about temptation is deciding what is sinful and what is not. In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins reports that while North Americans often don't recognize anything sinful about certain things, Christians in other areas of the world strongly disagree. For instance, the Anglican archbishop of Southeast Asia, Moses Tay, was visiting in Vancouver during the early 1990s. When he toured the city's Stanley Park and saw the totem poles that are a huge draw for tourists, he was appalled. His immediate reaction was that the totem poles belonged to an alien religion and needed to be dealt with by prayer and exorcism. The local Anglicans were shocked and dismayed by the Asian archbishop's comments, because they had been working diligently to develop good relations with the local native communities, from whom the totem poles originated. The Canadian Anglicans insisted that the totem poles represented nothing more than harmless superstition. Archbishop Tay, though, viewed the totem poles as a temptation to sin.
Some people need help in facing temptation. According to CNN (8/20/03), that's what some parents in Southbridge, Massachusetts, figured. They saw how their 22-year-old daughter kept making bad decisions about who to date. In particular, the parents objected to men who showed up at their door covered with tattoos from head to toe, men who were much older than their daughter, and others who they simply described as being "scary." As a result, the parents took matters into their own hands. They put a sign on their front lawn that said: "Who wants to marry my daughter?" They also took out ads in the local newspaper inviting young men to submit applications to marry their daughter. Applicants were expected to submit an essay, along with a photograph. The parents then planned to interview each candidate and run a criminal background check on each one, before finally deciding who they would approve of to marry their daughter. The parents conceded that the final decision would ultimately be up to their daughter. But their desire is to help her say no to the kinds of men that she shouldn't be involved with, so that she can eventually be able to say yes to the right man.
"He who with his whole heart draws near unto God must of necessity be proved by temptation and trial." (Albert the Great)
"The devil tempts that he may ruin; God tests that he may crown." (Ambrose)
"God tested Abraham. Temptation is not meant to make us fail; it is meant to confront us with a situation out of which we emerge stronger than we were. Temptation is not the penalty of manhood; it is the glory of manhood." (William Barclay)
"Temptations, when we first meet them, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them." (John Bunyan)
"Temptations discover what we are." (Thomas a Kempis)
"Each temptation leaves us better or worse; neutrality is impossible." (Erwin W. Lutzer)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
We enter into Your presence, Most High God, seeking refuge and safety, knowing that You alone are worthy of ultimate trust. No evil shall befall us, no scourge come near our tents, if we but trust in You. We trust Your love, in every challenging experience of life, and rely upon the strength Your deliverance alone can provide. With joy we seek Your presence, with thanksgiving we sing Your praise, in trouble we nestle under the shelter of Your wings. Hear our prayers, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Set us free from false shame and guilt, O Lord, and cleanse us from the real sins we commit. When we make distinctions among our neighbors, as if some were more deserving of Your love than others, have mercy on us. When we stifle Your generosity, or bring division and discord, or dishonor others made in Your image, forgive us. Give us eyes to see others with the same love You have for them. Forgive us our narrow and divisive inclinations and let us proclaim Your love and forgiveness freely to all who will hear, for You are generous to all who call upon Your name. In the Spirit of Christ we pray. Amen.
O God receive the first fruits of our devotion, as we bring these offerings to You. You, who have set us free, and brought us into a life flowing with milk and honey, and liberated us from slavery to sin and death, receive the fruits of our labor, as a memorial to Your wonderful love. We give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Just as Your Son Jesus was tested in the wilderness, so we are tempted. We hunger for easy gratification, or for success, or for power and control. As we cling to Your Word of life, and remember the words of Your revelation, and humble ourselves in Your service, may we hope to overcome these temptations.
Let us never be smug about our lives or find an easy comfort in the material blessings with which You may have surrounded us. Let us not take credit for Your gifts. Let us rather find comfort in the knowledge of Your love as we walk Your way in the wilderness. May we walk in Jesus' ways, and trust in Your love. Amen.