Fleeting delight

Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

On 5 March Ash Wednesday was kept at St Michael’s and Whitefriars Schools . The children received the sign of the cross in ash on their foreheads as we did here at Mass in the evening. In addition the children wrote down a sin they had committed, something that they wished to say sorry for. I told them I did not want to know what they had written, it was between them and God. We collected the papers and because it was 'Ash' Wednesday we made some more, and burnt the sins before their eyes. Whatever sins they had committed had been forgiven and forgotten by God as they went up in smoke. 

We may tend to treat the confession at the start of Mass in a cursory fashion; do we really called to mind our sins? Perhaps we should gather outside around a brazier at the start of the Mass and write down our sins and burn them, or would that aggravate global warming?

The children of Year 3 were back here for Mass on Friday, and I asked who had continued to be completely good since their sins had been forgiven on Wednesday. Nearly all of the children put their hands up, probably committing the sin of lying! The children read the story of the temptation of Christ, the most vivid encouragement to us to resist the temptation to sin. We are tempted to sin in so many ways, some we realize, some we don’t. To know we are being tempted is a good thing, because it means that we are aware of the difference between what is right and wrong. If we are not aware of being tempted we may be so desensitized to sin that we see no harm in what we are doing.

The temptations of Jesus are vivid and real. After the revelation of his baptism, when he was shown without a doubt to be the Son of God, he was full of the Holy Spirit. That same spirit lead him out to the wilderness to face his demons. All three temptations were real questions in his mind. What sort of Messiah was he going to be? A wonder-worker who could enjoy an easy life with all his material needs provided for, a superhero who could jump and fly without concern for his safety or a grasping megalomaniac set on world domination? 

The tempter uses the Bible to tempt him, insidiously trying to corrupt him, a warning to us not to take isolated verses from scripture to justify our own bad behaviour. But Jesus wards off these temptations with counterblows from scripture, all three quotations coming from the book of Deuteronomy. This reminds us that when we are well versed in the scripture we can use it as a guide and defence. 

Jesus was out in the wilderness for 40 days; the people of Israel were out there for 40 years, tested to see if they were worthy to be God’s chosen people. They barely passed the test, with many alarming failures. They soon forgot what God had done for them, they looked for easy quick-fix solutions to their problems.

We are not tempted by random temptations, but by those things that appeal to our sinful nature. The desire to sin lurks inside us, like the snake by the tree. Sin seduces us for a moment of fleeting delight, but leaves a lingering feeling of malaise. Before we fall into sin, it is as though we are in the Garden of Eden. All is dandy in paradise, but when we do something or say something we should not, then like Adam and Eve when they realize they are naked, we are ashamed. 

St Paul says that through Adam and the original sin, came death. And through Jesus, the second Adam, came life, as he did away with the power of sin, by rising form the tomb and giving us the chance to live eternal life.

Sadly, despite the sacrificial act of Jesus, we still see all too clearly the consequences of sin around us: the sadness, and desolation, the broken lives, the plight of the vulnerable who cannot compete in this difficult world. There is much suffering around us, and we may be tempted to the sin of apathy, to shrug our shoulders and say 'what can we do?' Thankfully there are people and organizations who resist the temptation to do nothing and who work to improve the lives of others, among them is the Purfleet Trust whose work we will be hearing about after Mass today.  

Today we have accompanied our Lord out into the wilderness. May he who exposed the false promises of the tempter keep us resolute in our spiritual challenge to resist the temptation to sin.