Lent’s somber tone, ironically, occur just when spring returns to New England. For most of my life, there seemed an awkward disconnet between the two. But perhaps the rich purple hues of Lent have a unique and unexpected nuance. Perhaps it is no accident that Lent is launched with the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. And, perhaps it was no accident that this morning a young homilist offered the words that brought it all together.
Temptation is not really just a feeling, a desire, that presents a choice. Temptation is not just about choosing between self-gratification and sacrifice; it is not just about looking at short-term rewards vs. long-term effects. Today, that young homilist offered a perspective I had not thought about before. He suggested that Jesus’ temptation was actually a challenge to identity.
Jesus, Son of God, unique, special, well-loved., challenged in the desert to usurp the identity of another, to reject who he was and what he was about. That Gospel is a reminder to us that we too have an identity that matters. And so, for us, loved by God and strenghtened by Baptism, temptation is also a challenge to our identities as human beings. Our choices explore the boundaries and depths of what that identity is actually all about. Temptation is the challenge to distort, shape, negate and nullify all that. It is about more than the simple right or wrong; it is the ultimate challenge to choose to live as who we really are.
Jesus knew who he was. Facing the reality of human life means knowing ourselves so well and becoming so grounded in our identity that our choices deepen, broaden, enrich that identity. Realizing the reality of temptation, recognizing it for what it is, and reaching out for help when it happens means there is a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we can be. The ideal of perfection dies to that truth; hypocrisy has no place within our choices. More than anything else, facing temptation means entrusting ourselves to the reality that we are human beyond doubt. Facing temptation means acknowledging need, especailly for help and courage. Courage enables us to admit the fragility of who we are and accept that. Help means admitting sorting out the confusion and consequences that temptation so inevitably presents is challenging. Actually reaching out for clarity and assistance is a step towards better understanding who we are, why we are here and what we can do.
That was Jesus, standing in the desolation of the desert confronting His reality. This is us, centuries later, grappling with the same, simple human choice: “What do I do now?” The answers may seem simple, and the judgements obvious. Even a quick glance reveals that as human beings, the scenario is different today but the ultimate choices are the same.
We will fail. There will be times when temptation beats us. It happens for all kinds of reasons: emotional, psychological, lack of self-awareness, greed. But there is always a chance for a pause, a re-set. In those humbling moments when the reset is most necessary, we learn the most about the God who loves and sustains us on the journey. That God believes in us in ways that we can only imagine. That God is waiting for us at the desert’s edge. welcoming us home.