Considering spiritual discipline (March 7, spiritual discipline – a Lenten reflection and March 11, spiritual discipline redux – a Lenten reflection) leads me, perhaps inexorably, to contemplate temptation. Mine. As a follower of Jesus, I’m led to revisit his. During Lent, I’ve been rereading the Gospel of Luke. So, I turned to that evangelist’s account of Jesus’ wilderness temptations – a lens through which I behold the interior struggle between human desire and higher calling.
The devil tempts Jesus to satisfy his hunger (“Turn this stone to bread”), to get power (“Worship me and I grant you unlimited authority”), and to gain stature (“Leap from the temple and God’s angels will catch you; the dramatic display drawing crowds”). Jesus rejects every inducement.
I wish my enticements to do less or other than what I believe I’m called to do were as clear as those Jesus confronted. I also wish my responses were as certain. Usually it’s not that way for me. There have been moments when temptations and solutions were obvious. Largely, though, it’s not clarity I see, at least not immediately, but ambiguity. The choices of what to do are not between right and wrong or good and evil, but between less/least bad and more/most good.
One more difficulty. Often I don’t know the quality of my choosing until time passes and I can evaluate the outcomes and consequences. Much of my time I neither spend in the allegorical desert places of my life where the landscape is so barren things appear in bold relief nor on the proverbial mountaintop of revelation where on a clear day I can see forever. Typically, the color I see is gray.
Reflecting on Jesus’ temptations, I’m oddly comforted. Though clear his responses were, I don’t find in them definitive ethical instruction for every eventuality. It’s not the way Jesus taught and it’s not the way I read the Bible. However, I do see an outline of the shape that temptations often take. To turn stone to bread is to ignore, at all costs, the call of self-sacrifice. To seek power is to covet success more than faithfulness. To leap from the temple is to present myself in speech and action as someone other than who I am.
In the midst of life, facing temptation and making choices is never easy. But maybe, often enough, knowing what my temptations look like, at least for starters, is enough.