THE SECRET OF OVERCOMING THE DEVIL’S MANIPULATIONS
(Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1-7, Ps. 50:3-6, 12.–14.17, Rom. 5:12–19, and Matt. 4:1–11)
The familiar story of “the fall of Adam and Eve” found in the book of Genesis, which is related in the first reading of today’s First Sunday of Lent (Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1), is not literally about the eating of ordinary fruit by “our first parents.” Rather, it is about the temptation of human beings and their freedom of choice to obey God, the creator and source of eternal life, rather than to obey the voice of the enemy of our soul, the devil.
As children of God, we are faced daily with the freedom of choice to obey God’s voice and cling onto Him or to hearken to the devil’s manipulations and lies. This human dilemma is at the heart of “THE THREE TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS” after his forty days and forty nights in the wilderness praying and fasting, as the Gospel reading today presents (Matt. 4:1–11). What an intriguing mystery! that the Son of God would submit himself to temptation! Jesus allowed himself to be tempted, leaving us an example of humility and how to overcome the temptations of life in contrast to the great fall of Adam and Eve, who chose to listen to the voice of the deceiver.
Again, the temptation of Jesus teaches us that no one should consider himself exempt from the trials of life, irrespective of one’s holiness and commitment to the Lord. Hence, temptation in itself is not a sin. No matter what nature it takes. It all depends on how one handles it whenever it comes.
The narration has it that Jesus was feeling hungry after his fasting for forty days and forty nights in the desert, and the devil came and asked him to turn the stones into bread if he were the Son of God. Jesus replied, citing the Scriptures, that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). By this, Jesus tells us that we should always decline making pleasure the center of our lives, but rather live in obedience to God’s commands. Hence, Jesus not only declines the food that his body requires, but he also rejects the greater temptation of using his power for selfish purposes and pleasure, as many people would do.
Next, the devil asked him to demonstrate his power and to perform a miracle by throwing himself from the top of the temple as if he were God’s Son. Here the devil also references the Scripture that says, “God will send his angel to rescue you, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:12). To this again, Jesus declines, stating the Scripture that “one must not put God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). By this, Jesus condemns our mad chase after miraculous powers to attract fame, admiration, and praise. For Jesus, our Christian vocation is to follow Him in love, simplicity, humility, and selflessness, not in seeking fame and people’s appraisal.
Finally, the devil showed Jesus at a glance all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, saying that he would give them to him only if Jesus would kneel and worship him, the devil. At this point, Jesus sharply rebuked the devil to be off, for according to the Scriptures, “you must worship the Lord, your God, and serve him alone” (Deut. 6:13). By this, Jesus condemns all aspects of “Satanic Initiation and Worship,” all in a bid to secure power and wealth. Nowadays, many deaden their consciences and pay loyalty to the devil’s demand of worshipping him and doing whatever he demands in order to acquire wealth and power, none of which would follow them below as soon as death knocks.
In sum, the three temptations of Jesus center on pleasure, power, and wealth. They remain the three main areas of attraction, which the devil still uses today to lure many away from God. However, Jesus has given us a noble example of how to overcome the devil’s manipulations and lies through the power of his union with the Father, enhanced by prayer and obedience. Therefore, the strength of any Christian believer to triumph over the devil and his snares lies in one’s enduring relationship with God, built through prayer and obedience to God. Only by doing this would one be able to contrast the tempter’s lies each time with what God says in the Scriptures.
Jesus, therefore, leaves us this noble example as a method to employ to overcome the devil in his intent to lure us away from God with lies. In every moment of temptation, just pulse for a while and quickly ask yourself, “What did God say about this?” WOULD MY DOING THIS BE PLEASING BEFORE GOD? And if doing that very thing would be contrary to what God would approve, then you have to give God priority by declining to please the deceiver and the father of lies (Jn 8:44).
When you give God the first place in your life and allow his principles to determine your decisions and life choices, you will certainly, like Jesus, triumph over every temptation that the devil would bring your way, because obedience to the word of God radiates the power of God flowing in one’s life. And he who obeys God in everything would certainly overcome the devil in every way.
Rev. Fr. Damian Ikemefuna Ozokwere, C.S.Sp.
Lord, help me to always be at alert to recognise and defeat every devices of the enemy of my soul…may I completely trust in your daily. Amen!
Amen. May the Holy Spirit strengthen you to always overcome temptation through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.