Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 5: Temptation

It is Sunday so while we do not fast today, we should still do the prayer and almsgiving that we decided on for Lent.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the story of the Temptation, either Matthew, Mark, or Luke's version. We are accustomed to the long version, the devil and the conversation, the version in either Matthew or Luke. This year we are reading the oldest gospel, Mark.

The first thing that hits you about Mark is how little is said.
Mark 1:12-13

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

That's it- no details. The later gospels expand on this, adding more detail, but there is something to be said for the brevity. It focuses our attention on the idea of temptation.

In order to understand temptation. We have to understand sin. Sin is always a choice. It is not possible to accidentally sin. It is not possible for someone else to make you sin. Sin is always a knowing, free choice.

If sin is always a choice, there is always a moment of decision. Temptation comes just before that moment of decision.

Too many of us think of temptation, as the little devil on your shoulder from the cartoons, whispering in your ear. A more modern word might be trigger.

Most of us don't have a long list of sins; we have a short list that we keep repeating. The worst thing we can do is use the excuse, "Well, that's just how I am." As Christians we believe, we can and must change.

The first step is to identify the temptation point, the trigger.

Take gluttony. I am not a sweets person but I love salty snacks. For me, potato chips only come in single serving bags. No matter how big, once I open it, I can sit in front of the TV and eat the entire bag. One little handful, then another, then another.....

So I don't buy them. If they are not in the house I don't eat them. Sometimes we have to know our limitations and not put ourselves in situations where we know we are going to sin. Why we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that this time will be different is beyond me. Be honest. Admit your limitations. If every time you go out with this one particular friend you get drunk, then maybe you need to go out less with that friend. Or go to a movie rather than a bar.

Second, take responsibility. No one can make you mad. They do something, and you get mad. There are many situations we cannot control but we can control how we react.

This gospel challenges us to take this first full week of Lent and monitor our behavior. Identify the sins we fall into over and over. And then identify the temptation points, the triggers. Pray for God to help you respond differently, to help you take control of your life.

Sin is not inevitable. At the moment before every sin, there is a moment when we can choose the other path. Identify the moment of temptation. When we can see the temptation as temptation, we are half way home.