10 March 2019

Don't "fight" temptation!

1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

So, the Devil is brave enough or dumb enough to tempt our Lord at the end of his forty days in the desert. It might not be bravery or stupidity that drives the Devil. Maybe it's desperation. Regardless, whatever motivates him to tempt the Son of God, the Devil is certainly ambitious. And if he's desperate enough or ambitious enough to tempt the Christ, tempting you and me is child's play. And so, we have the season of Lent to train us in spiritual combat to survive for the rest of the year. We know our own weaknesses – all those sins that call our name day and night. We all know the weapons at hand – prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. We know the stakes – eternal life or eternal death. And we know the enemy – ourselves. This is the hard truth of Lent: we are created from dust, fashioned from the dirt of the earth and given life by the breath of God. We are also – baptized and confirmed – children of the Father and heirs to His Kingdom. Our Lenten battle is not btw Good and Evil out there. God has won that battle. He won it on the Cross. The battle is in here. The question is: do you believe that Christ's victory on the Cross is your victory as well? Do you live in Christ, knowing and believing that you are already victorious over sin and death?

I'm just guessing here, but I'm willing to bet that many of us here tonight are still fighting against temptation. Battling one sin or another in a desperate attempt to remain holy. You might be imagining a little devil on your left shoulder urging you to commit a sin and an angel on your right just as urgently exhorting you to resist. You might imagine that these two voices are equally powerful and persuasive. Both make appealing arguments and offer compelling evidence for why you should or shouldn't sin. Which one do you choose? Sinner or saint? This picture of temptation and holiness is a lie. It's a lie b/c you have already chosen. You chose to be a saint. You chose to put yourself squarely into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. You have already won. The victory is yours. Therefore, when a temptation arises, look at it squarely. Acknowledge it. Name it. Call it by its proper name. No euphemisms. No dodges. No psychobabble excuses. Give it its real name. And say, “I belong to Christ! His victory is mine!” There's no fighting, no struggle, no battling against the Devil. No spiritual drama. Just lay claim to the victory Christ won for you on the Cross. What sense does it make to fight a war you've already won? 
Jesus shows us what this victory looks like. But first, notice what's missing from our gospel account of Jesus and the Devil in the desert. No flaming swords. No battling angels or celestial beasts. No rumbling thunder or cracks of lightening. No raging hordes of demons crashing against a shiny host of saints. There's no point in the scene where Jesus is barely hanging on to his life and is rescued in a last ditch, desperate push by the Good Guys. The Devil doesn't fall into a puddle of bubbling muck while shouting curses and promises of revenge. In fact, there's very little drama here. The Devil makes an offer, and Jesus refuses by quoting Scripture. This would be one of those scenes in an action movie you'd fast-forward through b/c “nothing happens.” Why then do we make spiritual combat into some sort of High Drama Event right out of the Lord of the Rings? Why do we re-fight battles we have already won? Could it be that we don't really believe that we have our victory in Christ? Could it be b/c we have bought into the fable that we are fighting the Good Fight. . .and that fight isn't yet over?

Here's a radical suggestion for you to consider: the idea that we can “fight temptation” is itself a temptation used by the Devil to keep us from claiming our victory against him. Think about it. . .if believe that the battle against sin and death isn't over, then we aren't likely to claim victory. We'll continue to fight. If we fight there's always the possibility that we will lose. . .by our own choice. We'll choose sin. And the Devil wins that battle. But if we start by reminding the Devil and ourselves that the war against sin and death is over, then there is no battle to fight. If all of this is true, then why do we bother with prayer, fasting, and alms-giving? These are not weapons against the Devil. These are weapons against our own tendencies to forget that we belong to Christ. When we pray, we are reminded that our strength comes from God. When we fast, we are reminded that we are both dust and heirs. And when we give alms, we are reminded that everything we are and have was first given to us by God. We belong to Christ. Lay claim to your inheritance and march into this Lenten season ready to do battle. . .to do battle not with the Devil – he lost already – but to do battle with your forgetfulness. Remember: you are dust. But you are also a Child of the Most High!

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