24 February 2009

Thanking the Devil

A few provisions for your Lenten trek. . .

Jesus went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights. The devil shows up and tempts our Lord with a variety of goodies.

How is Jesus tempted?

First, he is tempted to reject God with a show of pride. Prove you are who you say you are by performing a miracle.

Second, he is tempted to reject God by testing His promise of love and care. Place yourself in danger so that God will be forced to prove His promise to rescue you when you are in trouble.

Third, he is tempted to reject God by taking on worldly power and prestige. Forsake the worship of the Lord and be rewarded with temporal prominence and political power.

Each time Jesus rejects the temptation and rebukes the devil. How? Each time Jesus successfully resists the devil, he does so by placing God first, by putting his Father upfront and on top of their intimate relationship, making his Father and His Word the lense through which he sees these tempting offers.

Notice also what Jesus doesn’t do when tempted. He never appeals to himself or puts his “needs” ahead of God. Never does he invoke his own power as the Son, or try to fight the devil with theological argument. He doesn’t negotiate or dialogue. He doesn’t listen carefully, ponder his options, and then decide based on a cost-benefit analysis. He doesn’t compromise or make any temporary deals. He doesn’t parse the language of the temptations, contextualize their content, or critique their literary forms. He doesn’t re-envision their meaning or try to make them relevant. He rejects them. Outright.

Jesus resists the devil by boldly and obediently speaking the truth. With each temptation, Jesus begins his rejection and rebuke in the same way, “It is written. . .” He pulls on the prophetic tradition of his heritage, God’s Word in scripture, and turns the devil’s deceit into a fulfilled revelation, a unveiling of the truth made manifest in the desert.

Lent is our chance to do what Jesus does. While in this desert for forty days, we take the devil’s false promises to us and turn them into the fulfilled promises of God’s love and care for us. God will love us against our will, but He will not prevent us from taking the devil’s deal if we will to do so. He will give us everything we need to say No to the devil, but He will not say No for us. We must act; we must say to the devil’s face, “It is written…” God and His promises come first.

The devil knows what we sometimes forget: the power of temptation lies not in accepting his lies as true in but rejecting God’s truth as false. In other words, we do ourselves far more spiritual damage when we make God an enemy than when we make the devil a friend. Why? With God as your enemy, all His gifts become intolerable burdens. You will not hope. You will not love. You will not trust. Enmity with God is a much darker, a far more dangerous place to be than mere friendliness with error and deceit.

Each time Jesus resists the devil’s temptation and rebukes him, he invokes his love of the Lord with the words of our prophetic tradition, “It is written…” He invokes the Covenant between the Father and His people; he opens the doors of his heart’s tabernacle and lets the Word blind the devil. He turns the devil’s false promises into the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to love us and care for us.

When tempted to reject God in pride, humble yourself in gratitude for what you have been given.

When tempted to reject God by testing His promise of love and care, remember that He will never lie; He will never fail.

When tempted to reject God by taking on worldly power and prestige, offer worship to this world’s only Lord and King.

And when you have successfully rejected all these temptations, do something to really make the devil crazy: thank him for his temptations because without them you might have made it through this Lenten desert without the urgent chance to become better friends with God.

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  1. thank the devil for tempting me??

    now that's a hard pill to swallow!!

    by the way. I need a bit of counsil regarding Lenten sacrifices...you interested??

  2. Anonymous7:51 AM

    This is an absolutely awesome homily, and might be my all time favorite homily of yours. Great job!

    Also, are you still sure about Edmund being a Dominican?


    I will get some video of Sassy soon. Girlfriend has been stocking her kitchen with items from my pantry.

  3. Fr, I sent that email. please look for it.

    No pressure or anything but Ash Wednesday is TOMORROW and I'm waffling...


  4. Anonymous10:01 AM

    I like the "thanking for the temptations".
    I believe it was in the Cure Of Ars that, after figuring out who was shacking his bed, making loud noises, etc, he would roll over and say "Oh, it's only you." (speaking to the Devil)" I thought it was someone important."

    Great homily. Many things to think on.

  5. For the moment I limit myself to only send you a BIG thank you for this awesome homily. If the Heaven can wait, then the devil can wait at least twice as long before I thank him ... notwithstanding the fact that you are absolutely right! ;-)

  6. Opey 124, hi,

    A story like that is told about St. Teresa of Avila, too. I'm personally glad you brought it up here and now. What a great, AND fun, perspective it is. And so easily effective. The devil can be that easily defeated moment by moment. With Jesus, though.

    Fr. Philip, thank you. This reflection and the companion prayer and the preceding homily, are all smokin'! as the saying goes. No, more correctly: they are 'on fire' as another saying goes. They'll be with me until Easter.

  7. I find it fascinating that, like a protestant, the devil tempts with scripture taken out of context...

  8. Anonymous5:05 PM

    That left a mark.

  9. Thanks, Father. I needed this today.