The Temptation? of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

It is Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan” that speaks those immortal words ‘I can resist everything except temptation’.  We’re really not very good at resisting those little pulls on our senses are we.  The <I really shouldn’t>, and <I probably oughtn’t> that quickly turn into <Oh go on then> and <Just this once>.  It is perfectly normal to be tempted, and so it would seem perfectly human to give into temptation.

The word temptation confusingly covers a multitude of…well, sins and non-sins.  Nobody, well at least very few people, says it is a sin to see a doughnut in a shop window, rather like the look of it and go in, buy it and eat it.  Far more people (I would hope) would say it is a sin to see a beautiful man or woman, rather like the look of them and engage in a sexual relationship with them even though you are already married.  But “temptation” would more naturally be used to refer to the former situation and not the latter.  Dangerous that we should think that today’s gospel reading was about resisting those little guilty pleasures we all have a weakness for, rather than rejecting hugely harmful acts and attitudes that destroy our relationships with one another and with God.  Temptation?  Or refusal to sin?

The sad truth of the matter is that it is as human to sin as it is to be tempted and to give into temptation.  Before there is Good News, there is bad news – we all do bad things and do harm to others and to ourselves.  To think other than this is self delusion.  The first letter of John in the New Testament says “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…”  Then the Good News: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We are all of us in the same bind, but we have been shown through the person of Jesus Christ that we have a God who loves us and forgives the bad things we have done: a love so strong that as he was dying on the cross Jesus prayed that those who had committed that terrible crime might be forgiven.

It is only too human to be tempted, to give into temptation and to sin.  But it is not the end of the world, and it is not the final word.  Sins can be forgiven, and Love wins out in the end.